Iowa Right to Life fails to block new campaign finance disclosure law

Catching up on some news from last week: on October 20 U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt denied a preliminary injunction request against Iowa’s new campaign finance disclosure requirements for corporations. The Iowa Right to Life corporation filed a lawsuit challenging the new law in September, claiming it places unconstitutional restrictions on corporate political speech.

More background on the law in question and Iowa Right to Life’s lawsuit are after the jump.  

The U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 Citizens United ruling prompted the Iowa legislature to pass the new law Iowa Right to Life is challenging. The Supreme Court found:

Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads […]

Senate File 2354 was intended “to protect Iowa voters from a flood of anonymous, negative advertisements funded by big corporations.” Its final version passed the Iowa House and Senate unanimously in March, and Governor Chet Culver signed the bill into law in April. Click here for the full text of Senate File 2354. Its most important provisions are:

Requiring corporations to file all statements and reports electronically for independent expenditures (on the same schedule as the office or election to which the independent expenditure was directed).

Requiring corporations to put “paid for by” statements-including the name and address of the corporation or union, and the name and title of the corporation’s CEO-on all published and electronic communications.

Requiring corporations to file a statement with the Campaign Finance Disclosure Board within 48 hours of making of an independent expenditure.

Barring corporations from using an advertising firm or consultant that has also been used by the candidate, candidate’s committee or ballot issue committee that benefit from the independent expenditure.

Requiring the approval of a board of directors (or similar leadership body) before a corporation makes independent expenditures that expressly advocate for or against a candidate.

Finally, a foreign national is prohibited from making an independent expenditure of any kind in Iowa.

Iowa Right to Life sought to bar enforcement of the new requirements during the current campaign while its court challenge to the law is pending. The corporation’s lawsuit claims,

Iowa Right to Life, Inc. wants to be able to make contributions to political parties and/or candidates, and also produce political ads supporting the candidates it likes. The First Amendment says it has the right to do these things. But Iowa law forbids it.

Iowa says that corporations cannot make political ads without a PAC, which requires burdensome registration, record-keeping, and reporting requirements. But the Supreme Court recently ruled in a case called Citizens United that corporations have a First Amendment right to make political ads, without having to create a PAC. So Iowa requires the very thing the Supreme Court said is unconstitutional.

Iowa also bans political contributions from corporations. But other types of associations- such as unincorporated labor unions-are free to contribute to candidates. This treats corporations differently than everybody else, and prevents them from making contributions they want to make.

I am not an attorney, but I doubt PAC reporting requirements will be found too “burdensome” an infringement on corporate speech, when weighed against the well-established public right to know who is paying for campaign advertising. The federal judge who will hear Right to Life’s lawsuit against Senate file 2354 wrote when denying the corporation’s preliminary injunction request:

The group “has asked this court to … radically change Iowa’s campaign finance rules midstream during an election,” District Judge Robert Pratt wrote […]. Iowa Right to Life did not show that its challenge was likely to succeed or that it would be irreparably harmed without an injunction, he wrote.

State Senator Jeff Danielson, who floor-managed the campaign finance disclosure bill, accused Iowa Right to Life last month of filing the lawsuit as a “political stunt” in order to “keep Iowa voters in the dark in the final weeks of this campaign.” A statement from Danielson noted that when the Iowa legislature was considering Senate file 2354, “The Iowa Right to Life Committee did not register to lobby for or against this legislation, according to public records.”

In other campaign finance related news, the top Democrat in the Iowa Senate and the top Republican in the Iowa House discussed disclosure requirements on Iowa Public Television over the weekend:

Henderson: Gentlemen, let’s return to the mechanics of the 2010 campaign. there’s been a lot of complaining about outside groups which are running advertisements in Iowa on behalf of federal candidates.  some of that has trickled down to statewide candidates.  you cannot control these outside groups that are chartered under federal rules.  are either of you envisioning any campaign finance changes at the state level to address some of the money issues that you’re seeing out on the campaign, Mr. Gronstal?

[Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike] Gronstal: Maybe this is something we can agree on.  I think there ought to be disclosure.  I think if you’re running ads that mention candidates by name, there ought to be disclosure.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are free to engage in this kind of activity.  we ought to at least know if it’s big oil paying for the republican ads. we ought to at least know if it’s big tobacco paying for the democratic ads.  we ought to disclose who the contributors are for these organizations.  so that’s what I’d like to see in this.  I think it’s pretty clear from the U.S. supreme court decision that we probably can’t get at restricting them.  when they’re not involved in the — we probably can’t get there but we can at least find out who is financing this operation.

Henderson: Mr. Paulsen?

[Iowa House Republican Leader Kraig] Paulsen: That came from a philosophical standpoint, and I think that’s right.  one of the things on this whole issue kind of waiting for this election to run its course, see how the ruling from the supreme court impacts things, what different challenges or questions come out of that, and then we’ll have to look at that.  quite frankly, I think we could look at more disclosure of our own campaigns on a more often basis, especially since almost all of us report electronically now.

More frequent disclosure requirements for Iowa candidates would be a welcome change. Currently candidates for the Iowa legislature or statewide offices have to report their campaign contributions and expenditures only once in a non-election year and every few months in election years (click here for specific report filing dates).

Another worthwhile innovation would be to require state senators to disclose their donations in the even-numbered years when they are not on the ballot. Democratic and Republican Senate leadership funds pay for much of the campaign advertising in battleground districts, but the public can’t find out who has donated to Gronstal or the Iowa Senate’s top Republican Paul McKinley this year, because neither Gronstal nor McKinley is up for re-election.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

  • Disclosure

    U will never understand how people can say with a straight face that they are opposed to disclosure of campaign funds, and somehow its a First Amendment issue.  I’m pretty much opposed to public financing of elections, but I just don’t see how you can oppose disclosure.  

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