Massachusetts Court Refuses to Strike Down Longstanding Ban on Corporate Political Contributions

A Massachusetts judge rejected a recent corporate challenge to the state’s longstanding ban on corporate political contributions to candidates, ruling that the corporate challenge “flies in the face of years of U.S. Supreme Court and U. S. Court of Appeals jurisprudence upholding such a ban.”

Since 1907, Massachusetts has prohibited business corporations from giving money to candidates. In February, two business corporations challenged this law in Massachusetts state court. The case was filed by the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, which challenges state bans on corporate political contributions around the country. (That’s an irony in itself, because while Barry Goldwater was alive, he spoke out against the expansion of money in politics, and wrote that political fundraising should come from “individuals and individuals alone,” emphasizing that he saw “no reason” for corporations “to participate in politics.”) The Goldwater Institute argued that the Massachusetts law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of business corporations, and sought a preliminary injunction against the century-old law while the litigation was pending.

The decision by Justice Linda Giles roundly rejects the Goldwater Institute’s theory. While Citizens United opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate “independent expenditures,” and later decisions (including an administrative opinion from the state elections agency) allowed corporations to contribute to “SuperPACs,” Supreme Court precedent is clear that states, like the federal government, may prohibit corporations from giving money directly to candidates. And as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit cogently explained, that precedent is good even after Citizens United. Justice Giles sensibly concluded that “[t]he Plaintiffs’ attempts to distinguish this long line of precedents are unpersuasive.”

Free Speech For People congratulates the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for prevailing at this critical stage of the litigation. The Goldwater Institute may try to pursue its case further, but Justice Giles has delivered a stinging rebuke in this first round of the corporate assault on one of the last remaining limits against corporate money in our elections.

A Memo of the Court’s decision is available for download, here.

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