Campaign Finance Experts See Few Implications for Virginia Ruling

May 30, 2011

By Alex Knott, Roll Call Staff

Campaign finance experts are saying privately that despite outrage over a judge’s decision this week that corporations could donate money directly to federal candidates, the verdict would probably not have any real effects on the 2012 elections.

The interpretations of Thursday’s U.S. District Court decision by Judge James C. Cacheris vary. Campaign finance lawyers believe the decision applies to only a small section of the country, would allow federal candidates to raise donations only from Virginia companies and even those contributions would be subject to donation limits.

“I would not expect anyone to accept corporate contributions based on this decision,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. Wertheimer said while the court case could has the potential to have serious effects, he does not see it as a game changer for the upcoming election. “Anyone that goes out and starts raising corporate money, does so at their own peril.”

The United States v. William Danielczyk Jr. & Eugene Biagi ruling found that the defendants did not break laws by using corporate funds to reimburse donations made by employees.

Following the ruling, FEC press officials would not publicly state whether the agency believed Congressional candidates running within the court’s jurisdiction could immediately start raising funds from corporations.

Members with districts in Virginia under the court’s authority also did not respond to requests asking whether they believed the ruling would allow them to start raising corporate money immediately.

“It’s too early to tell whether on not this is going to have an impact on federal elections generally for 2012,” one FEC official said. “But certainly the case raises an interesting issue post Citizens United and it’s just a matter of time before there are more cases like this.”

In their defense, Danielczyk and Biagi cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission.

This ruling would go well beyond the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United allowing corporations and unions to use corporate funds to donate to organizations running advertisements to affect federal campaigns. Thursday’s ruling would allow corporations to give directly to candidates, instead of an organization that would run campaign ads.

Campaign finance reform advocates said Thursday’s decision was a misinterpretation of Citizens United and will likely be appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court.

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