Court Ruling Opens Doors to Unlimited Campaign Donations

Monday, March 29, 2010

Following on the heels of the Citizens United decision that expanded political contributions by corporations and unions, a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, has decided that the government cannot limit donations to independent political groups that campaign on behalf of or against candidates running for the White House or Congress. The DC court ruling struck down the $5,000 annual limit on donations to so-called “527” groups, which operate independently of political parties, but have become major players in political contests.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) had argued that large donations to 527s cause “civic corruption” because they lead officeholders to give preferential treatment to donors. However, the Circuit Court ruled that “Whatever the merits of those arguments before Citizens United, they plainly have no merit after Citizens United….Contributions to groups that make only independent expenditures cannot corrupt or create the appearance of corruption.”
The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending, said the new ruling (SpeechNow v. FEC) will strengthen the advantage provided to special interests from Citizens United by allowing them “to spend bigger and more freely” through 527s or independent expenditure groups. “Going forward, there will be no limits placed on contributions to these new entities,” wrote Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director, on Capital Eye Blog.
So far in the 2010 election cycle, the biggest-spending 527s have been the conservative American Solutions, which was founded by Newt Gingrich, and the progressive America Votes.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Widening Impact of Citizens United (by Lyle Denniston, Scotus Blog)
Courts Take On Campaign Finance Decision (by Adam Liptak, New York Times) v. Federal Election Commission (U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia) (pdf)


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