SCOTUS ends corporate campaign contribution prohibitions

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down corporate and union campaign finance restrictions in a 5-4 decision today.

In doing so, the court overturned the 20-year-old Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce , 494 U.S. 652 (1990). It also threw a wrench into to a case in Northwest Michigan, Grand Traverse Prosecutor v. Meijer Inc.

The court’s decision today in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will allow corporations to make spending from their corportate funds on thing such as television ads in favor of, or against, a candidate. It will not affect, however, restrictions on direct contributions to candidates.

The Grand Traverse case will be affected by the decision. In that case, Grand Traverse Prosecutor Alan Schneider got the go-ahead in November to pursue a felony investigation of the campaign finance violations, when the Michigan Court of Appeals stated that a lower court had improperly dismissed an action by Schneider to compel Meijer Inc. and Dickinson Wright to comply with investigative subpoenas related to violations of MCL 169.254, which prohibits corporations from making election campaign contributions.

Said Schneider today in an e-mail to Michigan Lawyers Weekly:

Corporate contributions and expenditures was the principal violation focused upon by our investigation. The decision will preclude prosecution for that violation as the prohibition of that conduct was found to be unconstitutional. Sec. 54 of the MCFA was the subject of Austin v Chamber of Commerce. The decision in Citizens United, overuling Austin will apply to the 24 states which currently prohibit corporate spending

However, later, Schneider told the Traverse City Record Eagle that while the ruling will impact his pursuit of campaign funding violations by Meijer, it won’t kill the case entirely. See that story here.

For background on the Meijer case, see the Michigan Lawyers Weekly Jan. 4 story.