U.S. judge permits super PAC to operate in state

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HARRISBURG -- A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction in favor of a Washington, D.C.-based "super PAC" that had challenged a Pennsylvania election law regarding corporate and union campaign donations.

The injunction issued Monday by U.S. District Judge William S. Caldwell paves the way for the General Majority PAC, or political action committee, to begin operating in the state.

In its initial court filing last month, the PAC stated it "intends to solicit and accept contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions, and unincorporated associations ... and spend those funds to advocate the election of Democratic legislative candidates in Pennsylvania."

The PAC said that in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, the state's election code laws banning corporate and union contributions to political groups (such as the PAC) are unconstitutional.

"Following the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, ... there can be no question that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures by corporations," the PAC stated in its initial filing with the court last month.

The lawsuit "is likely to succeed on the merits of its claims," the judge wrote, explaining his decision to rule in favor of an injunction for the PAC Monday.

It's not clear how much this decision could shape donations and expenditures in statehouse legislative races this year; all 203 state House members face re-election in November, as do half of the state's 50 senators. The ruling opens the state to any super PAC, regardless of party affiliation.

The group can make only what are called "independent expenditures" -- those that are not coordinated with a candidate or political party committee.

The PAC's executive director, Jonathan Levy, referred questions to the group's attorney, who said he was pleased with the court ruling. Mr. Levy was a senior staff member on U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak's campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010, according to the group's website.

General Majority PAC states it is the "first nationwide SuperPAC focused on electing Democratic state legislators and other political leaders to build middle class economic security."

Pennsylvania officials did not oppose the PAC's lawsuit, according to the injunction.

Joe Peters, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, declined to comment Monday.

The order goes into effect immediately, court documents state.

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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