Lest anyone doubts the reach of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission -- which found that laws banning political donations by corporations violated the First Amendment -- take a look at the 5th U.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' Oct. 16 decision in Texans For Free Enterprise v. Texas Ethics Commission.
In that case, Texans for Free Enterprise (TFE), a political committee that advocates for candidates in Texas elections, sought an injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas declaring that portions of the Texas Election Code violated its First Amendment rights. According to the decision, TFE solicits donations from corporations and spends funds to support or oppose candidates.
The trial court enjoined enforcement of the election code as it applied to TFE's operation, a decision the 5th Circuit affirmed. And the 5th Circuit pointed out that it is not alone in its decision.
“Indeed, every federal court that has considered the implications of Citizens United on independent groups like TFE has been in agreement: there is no difference in principle -- at least where the only asserted state interest is in preventing apparent or actual corruption -- between banning an organization such as TFE from engaging in advocacy and banning it from seeking funds to engage in that advocacy (or in giving funds to other organizations to allow them to engage in advocacy on its behalf),” wrote Judge Jerry Smith.
A few weeks earlier, Smith joined a majority decision on Oct. 3 in Voting for America Inc., et al. v. John Steen. In Steen, the 5th Circuit rejected a get-out-the-vote organization’s argument that the Texas Election Code violated its First Amendment rights by restricting the receipt and delivery of voter-registration applications during voter registration drives.
-- John Council