AP NEWS

Supreme Court Takes a Pass

May 21, 2019

BOSTON — The United States Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a challenge to Massachusetts’ ban on corporate donations to political candidates, a move opponents of the prohibition characterized as a “missed opportunity.”

The court included the case, brought by businesses 126 Self Storage Inc. and 1A Auto Inc., on a list of those it would not review. The decision allows a September 2018 ruling by the state’s high court to stand.

“Elections should be decided by people, not corporations,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “The SJC’s decision upholding our century-old ban on corporate contributions to individual candidates and the integrity of our state elections was correct, and we are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court will let it stand.”

Massachusetts law prohibits corporations from contributing directly to candidates or establishing political action committees but allows them to make unlimited independent expenditures, with certain disclosure requirements, that are used to advocate for or against candidates but do not go directly to their campaigns.

The plaintiffs argued the ban violates their First Amendment right to free speech and unfairly applies to corporations but not other entities like unions and nonprofits.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Ralph Gants, ruled last year that the law does not violate free speech rights and can help prevent actual and perceived corruption. Allowing corporate contributions would create “a serious threat of quid pro quo corruption,” Gants wrote.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance issued a statement expressing appreciation for the “work done by the plaintiffs in this case, their legal team, and the supporters who have worked so hard to keep the spotlight shined on this issue through the years.” 1A Auto owner Rick Green co-founded the alliance, and 126 Self Storage owner Michael Kane serves on the alliance’s board.

The alliance has fought to eliminate what it calls the “union loophole” -- higher contribution limits for labor unions that allow such groups to donate up to $15,000 to an individual candidate in a single cycle.

The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance has submitted a new rule, set to take effect next month, that will hold unions to the same limits as individuals: $1,000 to a candidate, $500 to a political action committee (PAC) and $5,000 to a political party.

“While this is a missed opportunity for the Supreme Court to settle the issue definitively, MassFiscal and its members take solace in knowing their efforts have yielded results,” alliance spokesman Paul Craney said in a statement. “The new regulations set to be codified by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which dramatically reduce the loophole, are a vindication of their efforts.”

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