(CN) – A federal appeals court in Missouri upheld a ruling that banning political action committees from receiving donations from other political action committees violates free speech.
In 2016, Missouri residents voted in favor of amending the state’s constitution to add stipulations on campaign finance.
The amendment was enacted as Article 23, which prohibits political action committees from accepting contributions from other political action committees.
Political action committees, or PACs, are organizations formed to raise money on a private level in order to support or defeat a candidate running for public office.
Two PACs, the Free and Fair Election Fund and the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives Political Action Committee, sued the Missouri Ethics Commission, which investigates enforces campaign finance laws, claiming the new restrictions on campaign fundraising violated their First Amendment rights.
The organizations asked the court to enjoin the Missouri Ethics Committee from enforcing the new rules, claiming the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers was unconstitutional.
“The district court concluded that the prohibition unconstitutionally infringed on a political action committee’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. We agree and therefore affirm,” Judge Steven Colloton wrote in a 10-page ruling.
The judge ruled the ethics commission failed to show PAC-to-PAC contributions would breed corruption, because the groups are not controlled by a particular candidate and operate independently from any party running for political office.
It also argued the ban would prevent corruption “by preventing circumvention of contribution limits” by independent donors attempting to evade the $2,600 contribution limit.
“The transfer ban, however, does little, if anything, to further the objective of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Colloton wrote.
“It does not point to any evidence of any occasions before the amendment where PAC-to-PAC transfers led to the circumvention of contribution limits,” he added. ”Nor does the Commission identify any donors who have exceeded contribution limits by using transfers among a network of coordinated PACs.”
As a result of the ruling, the ethics committee may no longer enforce the ban on campaign contributions between political action committees.
“The district court properly enjoined enforcement of the transfer ban in its entirety. The amendment violates the First Amendment as applied to PACs that donate only to candidates and to PACS that both donate to candidates and make independent expenditures,” Colloton concluded.