A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Thursday struck down [opinion, PDF] a campaign finance law which bans corporations from making contributions to federal candidates, citing the controversial Supreme Court decision in Citizens United [opinion; JURIST report]. Judge James Cacheris dismissed a criminal count against two men charged with illegally reimbursing individuals for almost $200,000 in contributions [WP report] to Hillary Clinton's 2006 senate and 2008 presidential primary campaign. In dismissing the count, Cacheris stated that Citizens United had dissolved the legal underpinnings for the federal ban against direct contributions from corporations to a candidate:
For better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech. ... Corporations and human beings are entitled to equal political speech rights. ... Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within [the law's] limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing.Federal prosecutors have not indicated whether they will file a motion to reconsider the ruling, which seems probable.
Commentators have noted that judge Cacheris' opinion does not address the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont [opinion], which specifically upheld a ban on corporate contributions to election campaigns. Although Cacheris does acknowledge that another federal judge ruled on the same question but upheld the law, his opinion is silent on the Eighth Circuit's appellate ruling likewise upholding the ban. Cecheris' ruling does not follow the distinction between expenditures and contributions [AP report] upheld by the Eighth Circuit. Despite strong reactions to the ruling, the net impact is unclear because current election law limit individuals to $2,500 per candidate in each election, while corporate political action committees may contribute up to $5,000.