Federal appeals court upholds Minnesota campaign finance law

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a Minnesota campaign financing [JURIST news archive] law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. The Minnesota law was being challenged by two non-profit advocacy organizations and a for-profit business which argued the law was in violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] making it unconstitutional to ban corporations from making independent expenditures, meaning political speech not coordinated with a particular candidate. The Minnesota law [text] forces corporations to contribute to a registered political fund subject to a various statutory requirements including the filing of disclosure reports. The Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Taxpayer League of Minnesota [advocacy websites] and the for-profit Coastal Travel Enterprises [official website] argued that such requirements violate Citizens United's proscription on banning corporate independent expenditures and its ban on forcing corporations to make donations through Political Action Committees. However, the court held that:

Minnesota did not ban corporate independent expenditures. Instead, based upon the lower court's findings, as strongly supported by the record, we find that Minnesota created a statutory scheme designed to require corporations to disclose certain information when making independent expenditures. ... Based upon the record before the district court, Minnesota appears to have adequately tailored its laws because, as we found in the previous section, Minnesota's provisions collectively impose no materially greater burden on corporations than the disclosure laws at issue in Citizens United.
The Minnesota finance law was at the center of controversy when one of the disclosure reports showed that Target, Best Buy [corporate websites] and other corporations had donated money [Minneapolis Star Tribune report] to a group supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. His stance against same-sex marriage caused protests against the companies.

Campaign finance regulation has been in a state of flux since Citizens United was decided in January of last year. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] dismissed two challenges [JURIST report] to campaign financing schemes for Wisconsin Supreme Court elections. Last March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in two consolidated campaign finance cases. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether the First Amendment [text] forbids states from providing publicly financed candidates with additional government subsidies, which are triggered by independent expenditure groups' speech against such candidates or by the candidates' privately financed opponents. In McComish v. Bennett, the court will determine whether Arizona's matching funds and the law regulating campaign financing to equalize resources among candidates and interest groups, rather than advancing a compelling state interest in the least restrictive manner, violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments [text].

 

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