Corporate Spending Cap in Pennsylvania Nixed
(CN) - In the wake of Citizens United, Pennsylvania cannot limit the fundraising activities of political committees that make only independent expenditures, a federal judge ruled.
General Majority PAC contacted Pennsylvania's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation on Sept. 3, 2013, regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Citing the 2010 decision's endorsement of unlimited corporate spending in the support or opposition of candidates for president and Congress, the Washington, D.C.-based PAC asked whether Pennsylvania would stop enforcing a provision of its Election Code that bars independent expenditure-only political committees from accepting funds from banks, corporations, and unincorporated associations.
After the bureau refused to alter the contribution prohibition, the PAC sued Pennsylvania's Secretary Carol Aichele, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, and three other officials this past February.
Claiming that the Election Code's contribution prohibition is unconstitutional as applied to political committees that make only independent expenditures, the PAC sought a permanent injunction to block Pennsylvania from enforcing it.
Pennsylvania initially indicated that it would not oppose a preliminary injunction pending the resolution nof the lawsuit nor the case itself, and the PAC moved for judgment on the pleadings last month after the parties failed to agree to a consent judgment.
While the PAC wanted the preliminary injunction made permanent, Pennsylvania asked the court to effectively rewrite the Election Code by establishing a new category of "independent political committees" and directing the Department of State to circulate new group certification forms.
In permanently enjoining the Election Code's contribution prohibition Wednesday, Senior U.S. District Judge William Caldwell in Harrisburg noted that he was joining "a host of federal courts."
"In the wake of Citizens United, this prohibition on political spending that is neither prearranged nor coordinated with a candidate amounts to an impermissible restriction of protected First Amendment activity," Caldwell wrote. "Thus, we must strike down as unconstitutional the contribution prohibition as applied to groups that make only independent expenditures."
Shooting down the state's requests to address issues not raised in the litigation, Caldwell said he instead would "narrowly tailor" the injunction.
"Much as a written reminder that murder remains illegal in the commonwealth is unnecessary to resolve this case, so too is the reminder that individuals and organizations must comply with the various provisions of the Election Code that were not addressed here," Caldwell wrote. "As for the commonwealth's second request for us to establish a new category of 'independent political committees,' we will not usurp the role of the democratically elected General Assembly or the [Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation] BCEL by substantively rewriting the Election Code. That task goes beyond the limited role of the federal courts in our system of government. Having excised the offending independent expenditure limitation from the Election Code, we leave it to the commonwealth to amend its laws in accordance with the constitutional principles addressed today."