Ban on Corporate Campaign Spending Upheld in Massachusetts

BOSTON (CN) – Massachusetts’ highest court affirmed a state ban on political contributions from corporations in a unanimous decision Thursday.

Two businesses sued the state’s Director of the Office of Political and Campaign Finance in 2015, seeking to overturn a century-old state law that barred corporate contributions to political campaigns. They argued the ban infringed on their freedom of speech, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that law to be a vital remedy for government corruption.

“If corporate contributions were permitted, every time a political decision was made that helped or hurt a corporation’s interests, members of the public might wonder if the corporation’s political contributions – or lack thereof – played a role in the decision,” Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote in Thursday’s 36-page ruling. “Both history and common sense have demonstrated that, when corporations make contributions to political candidates, there is a risk of corruption, both actual and perceived.”

The state’s high court also ruled against the business owners’ equal-protection argument related to unions and nonprofits, which are permitted to make contributions, because the business owners failed to show that corporations are similarly situated to unions.

“Without citing any legislative history, the plaintiffs appear to claim that the true legislative purpose in enacting [the ban] and its subsequent amendments was to favor labor unions at the expense of corporations. But there is no evidence to support this claim,” Gants wrote.

The original lawsuit was brought by business owners Rick Green and Michael Kane, who are also members of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. Green is running for Congress in Massachusetts’ 3rd District as a Republican.

“Today’s SJC ruling can only be described as a major disappointment that only further upholds the country’s most unfair state campaign finance law,” Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesperson Paul Craney said in a statement. “This is a major defeat for proponents of campaign finance reform. Since it was first enacted decades ago, the union loophole has tainted countless elections across our state, even giving a louder voice to out of state union bosses than Massachusetts residents and employers. Fortunately, we are evaluating the next steps and are considering bringing this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would have good standing to intervene.”

The federal government, Massachusetts and 21 other states ban corporate contributions to candidates, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Massachusetts ban came about in 1907, the same year Congress passed the Tillman Act, which banned corporate contributions in federal elections.

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