Federal appeals court strikes down contribution limits to political advocacy groups

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that limiting contributions from individuals to independent political advocacy organizations is unconstitutional. The court relied on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [opinion, PDF], which eased restrictions [JURIST report] on political and campaign spending by corporations on First Amendment grounds. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] contended that the Citizens United ruling was not applicable because it involved expenditure limits as opposed to contribution limits. The court rejected this argument and found the latter to be in violation of the First Amendment, saying:

Because Citizens United holds that independent expenditures do not corrupt or give the appearance of corruption as a matter of law, then the government can have no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to independent expenditure-only organizations. No matter which standard of review governs contribution limits, the limits on contributions to [political advocacy groups] cannot stand.
Prior to the ruling, donations to such organizations could not exceed $5,000 from any one person. The decision also upheld reporting and organizational requirements on the basis that the public has a valid interest in knowing the sources of a group's funding.

President Barack Obama has sharply criticized the Supreme Court's holding in Citizens United, most notably [JURIST reports] in his 2010 State of the Union address. Obama warned of the increased potential for powerful interest groups, both foreign and domestic, to wield excessive influence over American elections and called for bipartisan support of legislation to counteract the decision. Citizen's United overturned Section 203 of the BCRA, which prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. Earlier this month, the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] held a hearing [JURIST report] on the effects of the Citizens United decision.

 

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