Last week a federal district judge in Virginia held that the federal ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates was unconstitutional. But don’t count your free-speech chickens just yet.
In U.S. v. Danielczyk, the district court held that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had undermined the rationale for the ban on direct corporate contributions. The judge reasoned that “contributions within FECA’s limits do not create a risk of corruption or its appearance — indeed, that is the point of the limits.” In other words, “If human beings can make direct campaign contributions within FECA’s limits without risking quid pro quo corruption or its appearance … then corporations must also be able to contribute within FECA’s limits.”
The judge’s decision makes perfect sense. But he has just issued an order indicating he is reconsidering. He has asked the parties to submit supplemental briefs on two separate prior decisions of the Supreme Court. This includes FEC v. Beaumont, 539 U.S. 146 (2003), in which the Supreme Court specifically upheld the direct ban on corporate contributions.
Predicting judges’ decisions is riskier than predicting the outcome of a horse race, but today’s order sure indicates that the judge may be having second thoughts about the scope of his ruling.