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Citizens in Action: D.C. Court Strikes Down Limits on Political Contributions

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 29, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On Friday, March 26, a the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia put into action the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Citizens United v. FEC. That decision, criticized by many, including President Obama, struck down spending limits on corporations' campaign contributions to support or defeat political candidates. As The Washington Post reports, the ruling of the D.C. court following the Supreme Court is expected to "unleash a flood of money ahead of the congressional elections in November ..."

In the case before the appellate court, v. FEC, the group called SpeechNow wished to make contributions to congressional candidates it found to be in favor of free speech and free association rights. Under the many years of legal precedent set before the Citizens United Case, there were limits on how much money individuals could contribute to organizations like SpeechNow and limits on how much money such groups could accept. Following the recent Supreme Court precedent however, the federal court of appeals found the, "limits ... are unconstitutional as applied to individuals' contributions to SpeechNow."

However, one other factor effecting donations and spending by such groups was left in place by the Supreme Court; the rule covering reporting and disclosure of donations and donors. These requirements direct groups to report the amounts expended in favor or in opposition of candidates and also to report from whom they were received. The court found, "the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate and who is funding that speech ..." According to the court, such reporting requirements will also help to discourage expenditures by foreign individuals or corporations which are still violations of the remaining campaign financing restrictions.  

According to The Post, one additional but related issue was reviewed by a three judge panel of the court of appeals. That decision, regarding the Republican National Committee, upheld the limits on contributions to political parties. These limits were part of the campaign finance law passed in 2002.

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