On Anniversary of Citizens United, a Look at Campaign Finance Litigation

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Written By admin at Friday, January 20th, 2012

Tomorrow will mark the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The justices voted 5-4 that corporations and unions had First Amendment rights to spend as they pleased to favor or oppose candidates.

A lot has happened since then, including several legal challenges that have sought to further deregulate political spending. So, on Citizens United’s birthday, let’s take a look at some of the big cases and where they stand.

U.S. v. Danielczyk

William P. Danielczyk Jr. and Eugene Biagi, were charged in February 2011 with illegally reimbursing donors who gave to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns. They allegedly paid back $ 186,600 in contributions, including at least $ 25,000 from corporate treasury funds.

Danielczyk and Biagi challenged the indictment on the  grounds that the federal ban on direct corporate contributions violated the First Amendment, relying heavily on Citizens United.

U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris in the Eastern District of Virginia agreed, ruling in May that “for better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech.”

The Justice Department appealed the decision, and it is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

A key issue is whether the Supreme Court’s FEC v. Beaumont, which upheld the ban as applied to nonprofit advocacy corporations, also extends to for-profit corporations. The Justice Department says it does, but Cacheris ruled that Citizens United undermined Beaumont.

The NLJ’s Marcia Coyle has more on the case here.

Bluman v. FEC

Benjamin Bluman, a Canadian lawyer, and Asenath Steiman, a dual citizen of Canada and Israel, both living legally in the U.S., sued the FEC seeking to overturn U.S. law prohibiting foreign nationals from making contributions in federal, state and local elections.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld a lower-court finding that Congress had the power to make such a ban. The justices rendered their decision in a one-sentence order with no noted dissents.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog nicely summed up the takeaway:  ”The Court thus made clear that its deeply controversial ruling of two years ago, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, did not extend beyond U.S. citizens (including corporations).

Wagner v. FEC

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the FEC in October seeking to overturn a law that bars individuals who have government contracts from making any contribution to any candidate, political committee or political party. The lawsuit alleges the ban violates of the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment and of the First Amendment.

ACLU says the ban is unfair because individual contractors work alongside federal employees who aren’t subject it, and while companies with federal contracts can make contributions through political action committees, individual contractors can’t.

The lawsuit is pending in federal district court in Washington. The plaintiffs have said they plan to file a motion for a preliminary injunction later this month.

Western Tradition v. Attorney General

This case is one of several around the country to challenge state bans on corporate political spending.

In a Dec. 30 opinion, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a state law barring corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates or parties, saying Citizens United only applies to federal elections. Click here for a story by the WSJ’s Jess Bravin on the ruling.

James Bopp Jr., the Terre Haute, Ind.-based lawyer who brought Citizens United, has teamed with Montana organizations to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, as the NLJ’s Coyle reported here.

Bopp has been hired by the political advocacy group American Tradition Partnership, as well as corporate plaintiffs Champion Painting and the Montana Sports Shooting Association.

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