Supreme Court Allows State Ban on Corporate Political Giving

By | April 8, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court left intact Iowa’s ban on corporate political donations, as the justices declined a chance to extend last week’s ruling striking down federal contribution limits.

The justices, making no comment, today rejected an appeal by the Iowa Right to Life Committee Inc., a nonprofit corporation that said the state measure violates rights to free speech and equal protection.

The law bars campaign contributions by for-profit and nonprofit corporations, as well as banks, savings and loans, credit unions and insurance companies. A St. Louis-based federal appeals court upheld the measure last year.

The Supreme Court had been holding the group’s appeal while it resolved the challenge to the federal contribution caps.

The high court’s 5-4 ruling last week concerned the speech rights of individual contributors, rather than corporate donors. The case centered on a federal law that capped the total amount a person could give to candidates, parties and political committees to $123,200 in a two-year election cycle.

The court said restrictions could validly target only “quid pro quo” corruption — that is, donations aimed at extracting specific political favors.

Citizens United

Iowa Right to Life contended in its appeal that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allowed unlimited corporate spending, should also govern contributions. The advocacy group urged the justices to overturn a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld a federal ban on contributions by nonprofit advocacy groups.

In ruling against Iowa Right to Life, the St. Louis-based appeals court said the Supreme Court alone has the “prerogative of overruling its own decisions.”

Iowa Right to Life also argued that the state law violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause because it doesn’t bar labor union contributions to candidates.

The case is Iowa Right to Life Committee v. Tooker, 13-407.

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