May 28, 2011
Citizens United: Up Next, Contributions
Th[e] logic [of Citizens United] is inescapable here. 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.
Only one other court appears to have ruled on this issue since Citizens United. In Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Inc. v. Swanson, the plaintiffs challenged a state-law ban on corporate contributions to candidates and political parties, arguing that the ban was unconstitutional under Citizens United. 741 F. Supp. 2d 1115 (D. Minn. 2010). The court disagreed, finding that Citizens United’s holding was limited to corporate independent expenditures and was not a repudiation of Buckley’s limitations on direct contributions to candidates. Because Citizens United did not overrule Buckley, the court held, a ban on direct corporate contributions remained constitutional. Id. at 1132-34.
This Court agrees that Citizens United did not overrule Buckley. Indeed, Citizens United noted that limits on direct contributions to candidates, “unlike limits on independent expenditures, have been an accepted means to prevent quid pro quo corruption.” Citizens United, 130 S. Ct. 909 (citing McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 136-38 (2003)). But this Court respectfully disagrees with the Swanson court as to the import of these facts. That Citizens United did not overrule Buckley and that it reaffirmed Buckley’s concern with preventing quid pro quo corruption does not justify flatly banning corporations from making direct donations while permitting individuals to make such donations within FECA’s limits. . . .
[F]or 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.