Massachusetts Sued Over Campaign Contribution Law by Goldwater Institute

The Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona has filed a lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts challenging its century-old ban on corporate contributions to political candidates. However, the same rule that bans corporate contributions allows unions to contribute up to $15,000 to a candidate. Attorney Jim Manley with the Goldwater Institute discusses the lawsuit in this report.

James Manley

James Manley

Manley says that the Goldwater Institute’s position is that the law should be the same for corporations as it is for unions. Common Cause has said that it “agrees with the Institute that unions should not be able to donate to $15,000 to a single candidate. Instead, they should be subject to the same $1,000 limit imposed on other groups or individuals.” The Goldwater Institute, says Manley, believes there should be “more political speech. .  . . The limits should be more than zero.”

The Goldwater Institute got involved in the Massachusetts campaign finance limits in 2014 because of an effort by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance to change the rule favoring contributions by unions. A bipartisan effort was mounted to change the law, but the effort was defeated by the Massachusetts legislature. According to Manley, only eight states have laws treating unions differently from corporations. The federal government and all the other states apply the same limits to corporations and unions.

The Goldwater Institute’s general position is that more political speech is better, says Manley. So campaign contributions should be virtually unlimited. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the only reason to limit contributions to candidates is to “prevent quid pro quo corruption, political bribes” or the appearance of corruption. That’s why it makes no sense to allow unions to contribute up to $15,000 to a candidate without any concern but to forbid a corporation from contributing even a dollar.

Manley explains that the Massachusetts lawsuit is against the state regulatory body that administers the state’s campaign finance laws. The Massachusetts legislature may decide, in view of the lawsuit, to respond to the challenge. However, Manley opines, the legislature does not seem to be inclined to change the law from its present form, having declined to do so in 2014.

James M. Manley is a senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. Before joining the Goldwater Institute, he served six years as a staff attorney at Mountain States Legal Foundation. In his first case after graduating from law school, he secured a victory at the Colorado Supreme Court protecting the right to self-defense on college campuses. His cases defending free speech, the right to keep and bear arms, taxpayer rights, and property rights have set important precedents in state and federal courts. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.