Supreme Court lets ban stand on direct corporate campaign donations


The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
February 25, 2013

The Supreme Court on Monday decided against reviewing the century-old ban on corporations making direct contributions to federal candidates.

The court without comment declined to hear an appeal from two men who said the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on elections, must also nullify the ban on campaign contributions.

The court last week accepted a different campaign finance issue. Justices announced that during their term that begins in October, they will consider a federal cap on how much an individual may spend on political contributions during a two-year election cycle. A conservative activist and the Republican National Committee are challenging the cap, which is $123,200 for an individual.

Groups that favor campaign finance restrictions gave the court grudging praise for not accepting the direct contributions case.

The Campaign Legal Center in a statement called the restrictions on corporate giving “an important bulwark against use of the corporate form to circumvent the contribution limits and to funnel corporate money directly into campaign coffers.”

But it added: “Today’s decision does nothing to mitigate the court’s disturbing decision last week to revisit the aggregate contribution limits passed in the wake of the Watergate scandals, which if overturned would enable individuals to make contributions of one- two- or even three-million dollars to buy influence in Washington.”

Two Northern Virginia businessmen, William P. Danielczyk Jr. and Eugene R. Biagi, were indicted on charges they used more than $150,000 in funds from Galen Capital to reimburse donors who contributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaigns for the Senate and for president.

U.S. District Judge James Cacheris threw out some of the charges, however. “For better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech,” the Alexandria judge wrote. “Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions . . . a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond reversed Cacheris’s ruling, saying the Supreme Court in Citizens United specifically sidestepped the question of direct contributions.

It is the Richmond court’s decision that the justices, without comment, declined Monday to review.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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