Pa. ban on political contributions enjoined; ruling faces criticism

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Pennsylvania’s law barring corporations and associations from making political contributions, which had been in direct conflict with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has now been permanently enjoined.

U.S. District Judge William Caldwell of the Middle District of Pennsylvania extended the preliminary injunction that he had entered in March to permanently enjoin the law.

The judge did this over the objection of the state not because it defended the law, but because it had asked him to go further and affirmatively recognize parts of the state’s election code that weren’t at issue in the case and to establish a new category for “independent political committees,” according to the opinion in General Majority PAC v. Aichele.

General Majority — a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee that distributes money to Democratic candidates running in state elections — brought the suit in February, and the state soon after told the court that it didn’t intend to defend the law.

“The only issue in this case the parties disagree on is the proper scope of our order permanently enjoining the enforcement of the unconstitutional contribution prohibition,” Judge Caldwell said.

General Majority argued that the “order should be narrowly tailored and limited to the issues raised in this case: It should simply declare the Election Code’s contribution prohibition unconstitutional.”

“The commonwealth agrees that this relief is appropriate, but curiously requests that our order striking down part of its own Election Code go further still,” the judge said.

He declined to take that route.

“With respect to the commonwealth’s first proposal, there is no need for our order to discuss issues that were not raised in this litigation,” Judge Caldwell said. “Much as a written reminder that murder remains illegal in the commonwealth is unnecessary to resolve this case, so too is the reminder that individuals and organizations must comply with the various provisions of the Election Code that were not addressed here.”

“As for the commonwealth’s second request for us to establish a new category of ‘independent political committees,’ we will not usurp the role of the democratically elected General Assembly or the [state’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation] by substantively rewriting the Election Code,” the judge said.

Lynn A. Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, cautioned, “Not only does this open the door to a floodgate of outside money in executive and legislative races, but judicial races as well.”

In a statement about the ruling, she said, “Around the country, in the wake of Citizens United and state lawsuits, outside special interests are discovering that it’s less expensive to influence a judicial race than races for the other branches. It is only a matter of time before Pennsylvania judicial elections follow the national trend and become even more expensive, more partisan, nastier, and less likely to ensure that the best judges reach the bench. This is especially troubling because there will be two open Supreme Court seats in 2015.”

Saranac Hale Spencer can be contacted at 1-215-557-2449 or Follow her on Twitter @SSpencerTLI. To read more articles like this, visit

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