The Supreme Court announced today that it will not hear a case challenging the longstanding federal ban on corporate contributions. The case involved promises by a CEO that his corporation would reimburse employees for contributing to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign. The trial court held that the ban on corporate contributions was unconstitutional in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. A federal appeals court reversed, concluding that while Citizens United allows corporations to make unlimited independent expenditures, it did not open the door to corporate contributions or corporate facilitation of contributions. The Supreme Court’s announcement today means that the appeals court ruling stands.

Because this case was being considered at the same time as the McCutcheon case (dealing with aggregate contribution limits), some had speculated that the Court would consider these issues together.

At the end of the day, it is not surprising that the Court declined to consider this case:

  • The McCutcheon case came to the Court in a way that required the Court to hear the case (or summarily affirm the lower court without a hearing), whereas this case was a discretionary petition for review.
  • All of the federal courts of appeals to consider the issue had upheld the ban on corporate contributions, so no circuit split existed.
  • Overturning a longstanding federal ban on direct corporate contributions would have been a high-profile and hotly-contested decision.
  • Even if the Court were to rule against the FEC in the aggregate contribution limit case, it could have still upheld the corporate contribution ban, so the decision in one did not dictate the outcome of the other.

Interestingly, a number of states allow corporate contributions (shown in green below). Some, such as Virginia, do not place any limits on the amount that may be contributed, while others, such as New York, have fairly low limits. It will be interesting to see whether, after the aggregate contribution limit case is decided, new challenges are mounted to the federal and state bans.

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