Amid the excitement over last week’s health care decision, the Fourth Circuit’s major campaign finance decision in a case called United States v. Danielczyk received relatively little attention. However, Danielczyk is a crucially important case, affirming the constitutionality of a longstanding federal law banning corporations from giving campaign donations directly to candidates. The opinion overturned a flawed lower court decision — and limited the reach of Citizens United. The federal ban on corporate contributions, now located in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, has been in force since Congress passed the Tillman Act in 1907. For more than a century, it has been one of the core protections against corruption in our democracy.
A government lawyer on Friday urged an appeals court to reverse a judge’s ruling that a century-old ban on corporate campaign contributions in federal elections is unconstitutional. Justice Department attorney Michael R. Dreeben told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the prohibition serves the legitimate government interest of curbing corruption, and overturning it would run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. But attorneys for two northern Virginia executives who were charged with violating the ban argued that U.S. District Judge James Cacheris got it right when he ruled last year that the ban violates corporations’ free-speech rights. In his first-of-its-kind ruling, Cacheris said it was not logical for an individual to be able to donate up to $2,500 to a federal government while a corporation “cannot donate a cent.” The appeals court typically takes several weeks to rule.