8th Circuit Upholds Minnesota’s Corporate Contribution Ban, Narrows State Disclosure Law

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals today correctly rejected a constitutional challenge to a Minnesota state law ban on contributions by corporations.

In Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life v. Swanson, the Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, noted that the Supreme Court upheld a ban on corporate contributions in its 2003 decision in FEC v. Beaumont, and that the Beaumont decision is still good law even after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United.

The Court of Appeals recognized that Citizens United struck down a federal ban on corporate expenditures, but left in place the federal ban on corporate contributionsThe 8th Circuit said that the plaintiffs’ argument “fails to recognize the significant distinction the Supreme Court made in its review of laws restricting independent expenditures and laws restricting contributions. Put simply, ‘restrictions on contributions require less compelling justification than restrictions on independent spending.’”

In a separate part of the decision, the 8th Circuit narrowed the coverage of a Minnesota law which requires any association, including a corporation, to register a “political fund” and file regular reports in order to make an independent expenditure.  The court said the ongoing state law reporting requirements for a “political fund” imposed an undue burden on a corporation’s right to make independent expenditures.

According to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer:

The Eight Circuit decision rejecting the challenge to the Minnesota ban on corporate contributions represents yet another defeat for campaign finance opponents who want the ban on corporate contributions declared unconstitutional. Despite the efforts of opponents, courts have correctly recognized that the Supreme Court drew a sharp distinction between a ban on  “independent expenditures” by corporations and a ban on corporate contributions. The Eight Circuit also recognized, as have other courts, that the Supreme Court spoke clearly on this issue in Beaumont v. FEC where it upheld the ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates.

While we disagree with the Eighth Circuit’s narrowing of the disclosure requirements in Minnesota, it is important to note that almost all other federal courts have upheld disclosure requirements for independent expenditure activities against challenges to the requirements, including the First, Ninth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal. It is also important to note that the Eighth Circuit decision is inapplicable to the federal DISCLOSE Act, which does not have registration and reporting requirements similar to the Minnesota law.

We are confident that disclosure laws throughout the country are going to continue to be upheld, given the Supreme Court’s strong support for disclosure by independent expenditure groups.  Campaign finance opponents are fighting a losing battle in their attempt to destroy existing disclosure laws and provide new opportunities for corrupting secret money to influence elections and government decisions.

Democracy 21 joined the Campaign Legal Center in filing an amicus brief with the 8th Circuit, arguing in favor of the Minnesota state law ban on corporate contributions and the disclosure requirements.

To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 in the Eighth Circuit, click here.

To read the opinion issued today, click here.