“If human beings can make direct campaign contributions within FECA’s limits without risking quid pro quo corruption or its appearance, and if, in Citizens United’s interpretation of Bellotti, corporations and human beings are entitled to equal political speech rights, then corporations must also be able to contribute within FECA’s limits.”

May 27th, 2011

That is the holding of Judge Cacheris in EDVA, finding that FECA limits on corporations are unconstitutional. The Court extended Citizen United’s logic to reach this result. Here is the key paragraph:

The Supreme Court seized on the latter point in Citizens United, combining it with Buckley to strike down a banon independent corporate expenditures. The Supreme Court’slogic was that because Buckley found that independentcontributions by human beings do not corrupt, and becauseBellotti held that “the First Amendment does not allow politicalspeech restrictions based on a speaker’s corporate identity,”130 S. Ct. at 903, corporations cannot be banned from making thesame independent expenditures as individuals. 130 S. Ct. at899-903.

That logic is inescapable here. If human beings canmake direct campaign contributions within FECA’s limits without risking quid pro quo corruption or its appearance, and if, inCitizens United’s interpretation of Bellotti, corporations andhuman beings are entitled to equal political speech rights, then corporations must also be able to contribute within FECA’slimits.

A little ipso facto for my taste.

The Court decided not to duck the issue by relying on the constitutional avoidance cannon:

This Court recognizes that it must strive to avoid rendering constitutional rulings except where absolutely necessary. Ashwander v. Tenn. Valley Auth., 297 U.S. 288, 347(1936). But for better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech. Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within FECA’s limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing. So because individuals can directly contribute to federal election campaigns within FECA’s limits, and because § 441b(a) does not allow corporations to do the same, § 441b(a) is unconstitutionaland Count Four must be dismissed.14

14 Importantly, this finding hardly gives corporations a blank check (so tospeak) to directly contribute unlimited amounts to federal campaigns.Rather, corporations are subject to the same FECA contribution limits asindividuals. See 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a) (listing limits on contributions from a“person”); 2 U.S.C. § 431(11) (“When used in this Act . . . [t]he term‘person’ includes an individual, partnership, committee, association,corporation, labor organization, or any other organization or group ofpersons.” (emphasis added)).

This quote is going to absolutely infuriate opponents of Citizens United who have argued that the Constitution treats corporations and individuals equally. And by infuriate, I mean they will issue dire press releases in order to gin up fear and raise funds. So they won’t really be infuriated, but will posture as angry, as this helps their mission.

Rick Hasen notes that this opinion will likely not stand:

I would expect this decision not to stand, or at least to be reconsidered by the judge. The United States Supreme Court in FEC v. Beaumont upheld a ban on corporate contributions in the case of FEC v. Beaumont, and the lower courts that have considered this question have all held that Citizens United did not overrule Beaumont on this question. The most recent case so holding is the Eighth Circuit’s opinion inMCCL v. Swanson, which I noted on the blog on May 16

H/T Election Law Blog