Citizens United Overruled As San Diego's Corporate Donation Ban is Upheld
In a big victory for campaign finance reform advocates, a U.S. District Court on Friday has upheld a citywide ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates in San Diego, California, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United ruling was not the controlling law--but instead pointing to another case where corporate contributions could be barred to prevent the possibility of corruption.
The ruling, by Irma E. Gonzales, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in San Diego, did not uphold all of the city's local campaign finance laws. But when it came to the rule completely banning direct contributions to candidates by non-individuals other than political parties, the Court said that another Supreme Court case, FEC v. Beaumont, spoke more directly to the San Diego city law--because it addressed anti-corruption issues.
"According to the Supreme Court, the prohibition on direct corporate contributions was justified by "the 'special characteristics of the corporate structure' that threaten the integrity of the political process." It was necessary to "prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption," Judge Gonzales wrote, explaining the ruling. "Moreover it was necessary to prevent the use of corporations "as conduits for the circumvention of valid contribution limits."
The Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 gave corporations permission to spend directly on independent electioneering--meaning activities not coordinated with candidates. But in San Diego, the issue was direct contributions to candidates. The court said those prohibitions were legitimate and ordered them upheld.
The ruling, which mary be appealed, shows that there are fissures in the law that still can be used to limit the power and influence of money in elections.