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Federal judge reaffirms ruling striking down ban on corporate donations to candidates

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Tuesday reaffirmed [opinion, PDF] a ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] he issued two weeks ago striking down a ban on corporate donations to federal political candidates. On Friday, District Judge James Cacheris held a hearing during which US prosecutors said they failed to cite key precedent [Bloomberg report] related to campaign finance, and that Cacheris did not have enough information to rule that the ban on direct corporate financing was unconstitutional. In May, 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 the Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruling in Citizens United [opinion; JURIST report] had dissolved the legal underpinnings for the federal ban against direct contributions from corporations to a candidate. The US attorneys asked Cacheris to consider Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont [opinion], where the Supreme Court specifically upheld a ban on corporate contributions to election campaigns. In his opinion, Cacheris said Beaumont applies only to nonprofit advocacy corporations and that Citizens United supersedes Beaumont.

Campaign finance regulation has been in a state of flux since Citizens United was decided in January of last year. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] a Minnesota campaign financing law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates and affiliated entities. A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] in April 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 law and a 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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