8th Circuit Upholds Minnesota’s Corporate Contribution Ban but Narrows State Disclosure Law


Today, the en banc Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found that a challenge to the State of Minnesota’s corporate contribution restriction was unlikely to succeed, but split on the constitutionality of certain aspects of the state’s disclosure law for corporate independent expenditures in Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) v. Swanson. 

The Court of Appeals found that plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail in their challenge to the state restriction on corporate contributions, noting that the Supreme Court in Beaumont v. FEC upheld the federal law banning direct corporate campaign contributions.  The Court also allowed much of the challenged state disclosure law to stand, but found unduly burdensome the state requirement that independent spenders file regular reports even when they have not engaged in political activity in a covered period.

“We applaud the Eighth Circuit decision to uphold Minnesota’s corporate contribution ban and much of the state disclosure law,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “But in questioning the ongoing reporting requirement and other minor organizational requirements of the state disclosure law, the Court of Appeals has disregarded the Supreme Court’s directive that disclosure laws be subject to only ‘exacting’ judicial scrutiny.  Minnesota’s law prevents no one from speaking and requires only disclosure from groups making campaign expenditures.  The Supreme Court has been overwhelmingly supportive of measures to ensure political transparency.” 

Minnesota law requires any association that wishes to make more than $100 in independent expenditures to register a “political fund,” subject to registration, regular reporting and recordkeeping requirements.  The Court of Appeals held that this law was impermissible “to the extent it requires ongoing reporting requirements from associations.”  But the Court indicated that the Minnesota law is distinct from “event-driven” disclosure, such as the federal electioneering communications disclosure law, making clear that the decision has limited relevance to ad-specific reporting requirements.

“It is important to note that this decision would do nothing to undermine the constitutionality of disclosure legislation, like the DISCLOSE Act, where reporting requirements are triggered by spending on specific political advertisements,” said Malloy.  “Nonetheless, this decision puts the Eighth Circuit out of step with the majority of lower courts to have considered comprehensive independent expenditure disclosure requirements in the wake of Citizens United.  The First, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have all upheld laws requiring regular reporting from groups engaged in political spending.”

To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 in the Eighth Circuit, click here.

To read the opinion issued today, click here.