Is there a more hated Supreme Court ruling in recent years than Citizens United, which struck down on First Amendment grounds certain restrictions on corporate campaign contributions? Love it or hate it, Citizens United is here to stay, and it just knocked down a campaign finance law in New York.
The case is New York Progress and Protection PAC v. Walsh, decided on October 24. This case was argued on October 18, so the urgency is clear, as irreparable harm is inherent in First Amendment violations, and the plaintiff supports the New York City mayoral campaign of Joseph Lhota, who needs the money in time for the election in November.
The law in New York imposed a $150,000 aggregate annual limit on certain political contributions by any person in New York State. So the plaintiff -- which makes independent expenditures without prearrangement or coordination with a candidate -- cannot receive more than that amount from any individual contributor in any calendar year. NYPPP alleges that "the cap violates its core First Amendment right to advocate in favor of Joseph Lhota in the upcoming mayoral election."
Post-Watergate, Congress took a hard look at campaign finance laws. When the money people challenged these restrictions under the First Amendment (on the theory that campaign contributions and spending constitutes political speech), the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) said the Constitution allows for some of these campaign finance restrictions in the interest of combating corruption. When Congress enacted the McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions in 2002, a new Supreme Court began chipping away at it, and the Citizens United ruling said that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures.
I am sure the lawyers representing the State of New York worked valiantly in defending the law that the Second Circuit took up in this case. But Citizens United makes this result a foregone conclusion. Under Citizens United, "it follows that a donor to an independent expenditure committee such as NYPPP is even further removed from political candidates and may not be limited in his ability to contribute to such committees. All federal circuit courts that have addressed this issue have so held."