DC Circuit unanimously upholds ban on campaign contributions from individual government contractors

On July 7, the DC Circuit court ruled on a lawsuit from three individuals who had federal contracts and wanted to make campaign contributions during the 2012 federal elections. The court upheld a federal statute banning individual contractors from donating to a federal candidate or political party.

The relevant statute says it is unlawful for any person, “who enters into any contract with the United States . . . directly or indirectly to make any contribution . . . to any political party, committee, or candidate for public office or to any person for any political purpose.” It applies “between the commencement of negotiations . . . and . . . the completion of performance of the contract.” This statute only applies to federal elections.

The contractors claimed this law violated their free speech and equal protection (under 5th Amendment due process) rights as individuals. This is NOT a case about corporate free speech.

To uphold the statute, the government had to “demonstrate a sufficiently important interest and employ means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.” The two government interests are: “(1) protection against quid pro quo corruption and its appearance, and (2) protection against interference with merit-based public administration.” The court found both interests to be significant.

Plaintiffs argued many reasons why the statute was over-inclusive and even under-inclusive. The court rejected all of them because of the dangers of corruption and other avenues of political communication still available, like volunteering time, hosting fundraisers, and speaking on a candidates behalf. Also, “the First Amendment Amendment does not require the government to curtail as much speech as may conceivably serve its goals.” In other words, just because the government could have banned more speech does not make the existing statute unconsitutional.

This case contains much more detail than could be communicated in this short summary. I recommend reading the full case here: http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/75398759A3FE855D85257E7B00527FA0/$file/13-5162-1561227.pdf

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