San Diego Restrictions Partially Invalidated

The US District Court for the Southern District of California has ruled that San Diego's ban on political contributions given directly from corporations and other non-individual entities to candidates remains valid, though the court struck down other restrictions on campaign contributions. While the ruling in a Virginia federal district court case, U.S. v. Danielczyk, held a law banning corporate campaign contributions unconstitutional, most cases involving such state bans have aligned with Citizens United and trended toward upholding restrictions on direct corporate contributions. The Danielczyk case is currently on appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The federal court in the San Diego case did invalidate restrictions on candidates assisting their own campaigns by spending their own funds more than a year before an election. The limit on how much a political party may help one of its own candidates was also struck down, as were the limits on independent expenditures and on contributions to groups that make independent expenditures. This outcome is also aligned with the decision in Citizens United.

Potential DC Ban on Direct Corporate Contributions

A corporate contributions ban applicable to city candidates could appear on the DC ballot if supporters of the initiative collect 22,000 signatures for the measure. The DC attorney general has cleared the proposed ballot initiative as constitutional and thus eligible to appear on the ballot in November. Current DC law permits corporate contributions directly to political campaigns, subject to limits which also apply to individuals. If advanced, the proposed initiative would bar corporations, companies, and limited liability partnerships from making direct campaign contributions, although such groups would be able to maintain PACs and to contribute through trade associations. The DC Board of Elections & Ethics approved the initiative in a February 27 hearing, giving the green light for supporters to collect the necessary signatures. Proponents will have 180 days to collect signatures.

State activity pushing against the Citizens United ruling continues, with the New Mexico Senate and House recently passing similar, but not identical, resolutions opposing the decision and requesting that Congress pass a constitutional amendment overturning the holding. The California State Assembly and the New York City Council have introduced similar measures calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

Montana v. Citizens United

The Montana Supreme Court recently held that an existing Montana law prohibiting corporate political spending was constitutional, notwithstanding Citizens United. In rejecting the US Supreme Court, Montana's Supreme Court held that the corporate political corruption rampant in Montana's history justified the continued legality and enforcement of Montana's Corrupt Practices Act. Not surprisingly, on February 17, the US Supreme Court issued a stay of the Montana Supreme Court's decision, which will remain in effect while the US Supreme Court decides whether to grant cert to review the Montana decision. In issuing the stay, however, two of the Citizens United dissenting justices, Ginsburg and Breyer, suggested that the US Supreme Court reconsider the Citizens United decision in light of the vast amounts of campaign spending by independent groups this election cycle.

Additional challenges to campaign laws in Montana were ruled upon on February 24 by US District Judge Charles Lovell. Lovell struck down a law requiring voting-record disclosures in election-related communications, as well as a law prohibiting knowingly false statements about candidates in campaign materials. The decision was based on the laws being too vague, and thus unable to pass constitutional scrutiny. The ruling retained Montana's contribution limits and the state's ban on direct corporate contributions, citing US Supreme Court precedent.