Corporations sue to allow campaign contributions

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2010 - 9:55 PM

Not content with running their own ads supporting candidates, businesses want judicial approval to contribute directly to campaigns and political parties.

Upset with restrictions on political campaign contributions, backers of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer are seeking to overturn a Minnesota law barring corporations from contributing directly to campaigns and parties.

State law now allows corporations to spend money independently of campaigns on ads supporting or opposing candidates, an arrangement that the U.S. Supreme Court approved early this year.

But the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and Coastal Travel Enterprises seek to go beyond that ruling and allow direct contributions to candidates by corporations.

"Our clients believe ... that the First Amendment gives corporations ... the right to contribute to candidates and political parties through their general treasury funds," said Joe La Rue, an attorney for the plaintiffs, who sued this week in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.

DFLers who pressed for greater scrutiny of corporate spending this year in response to the Supreme Court ruling denounced the lawsuit Thursday.

"This is going to be a never- ending onslaught from these people," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who disagreed that the First Amendment "extends in this way to corporations."

While the Supreme Court, in its decision approving independent spending by corporations, didn't consider direct corporate contributions to candidates, "we believe the reasoning extends," La Rue said.

But Richard Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who has followed the issue, said the Supreme Court has generally viewed campaign contributions to candidates as more susceptible to corruption than independent spending.

The court is more willing to tolerate restrictions on contributions than restrictions on spending, said Hasen, who is defending the city of San Diego against a similar lawsuit.

The Minnesota suit also seeks to remove state regulations enacted this spring by the Legislature regarding independent corporate spending on ads.

Those regulations added one reporting deadline before the primary election and one before the general election for independent campaign spending by corporations and made corporations subject to longstanding pre-primary and pre-general election reporting requirements.

La Rue said that those regulations are out of step with the Supreme Court ruling and that the multiple pre-election reports should be replaced with lesser regulation.

As for contributions to candidates, La Rue noted that unions already have the ability to do it. Winkler said there is a significant difference between contributions from members' dues and from corporate profits.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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