Supreme Court declines to take up corporate spending appeal

Mass. ban remains on corporate spending on political candidates

THE US SUPREME COURT has declined to hear an appeal to a ruling upholding the state’s ban on corporate donations to political candidates.

Monday’s decision by the nation’s highest court could spell the end of the road for the legal effort to loosen Massachusetts campaign finance rules by granting corporations the ability to donate to candidates.

Rick Green, a Republican businessman who ran for Congress last year, sued the Office of Campaign and Political Finance through his business 1A Auto, arguing that the separate rules that bar business donations while permitting labor union donations are unfair. The business 126 Self Storage was co-plaintiff on the case, and the conservative Goldwater Institute provided legal assistance.

After the Supreme Judicial Court ruled against the businesses last year, the state campaign finance office amended its rules to impose stricter limits on the amount of donations that a labor union could make to a particular candidate.

Before the new rules, which were finalized a few weeks ago, unions could donate up to $15,000 to one candidate, which is 15 times the amount that an individual can donate. Under the new rules, unions are limited to donations of $1,000 to a candidate. Businesses remain barred from making any donations to political candidates, though they can contribute to inaugural funds and to ballot question campaigns.

Green founded the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a non-profit that has targeted state Democrats and largely found common cause with Republicans while remaining an officially non-partisan organization that does not disclose its financial backers.

“Before we began our efforts challenging the union loophole, Massachusetts was the worst state in the country for how employers were treated in comparison with unions under state campaign finance law,” Paul Craney, a spokesman for Mass. Fiscal, said in a statement today. “Because of our work bringing attention to the loophole, and the work of our members pursuing the legal challenge, union bosses are no longer permitted to taint Massachusetts elections in such an egregious manner. While this is a missed opportunity for the Supreme Court to settle the issue definitively, MassFiscal and its members take solace in knowing that their efforts have yielded results. The new regulations set to be codified by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which dramatically reduce the loophole, are a vindication of their efforts.”

Over the past decade, the US Supreme Court has relaxed rules on political spending, enabling corporations or others to form so-called super PACs that can spend unlimited amounts to influence federal and state elections.

Attorney General Maura Healey welcomed the news that the Supreme Court wouldn’t take up the case.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

“Elections should be decided by people, not corporations,” Healey said. “The SJC’s decision upholding our century-old ban on corporate contributions to individual candidates and the integrity of our state elections was correct, and we are pleased that the US Supreme Court will let it stand.”

While the Supreme Court has shut the door on 1A Auto’s appeal, Craney suggested that the legal fight may live on. Asked via text message whether the court’s decision means the matter is over and settled, he replied, “Depends” without elaborating.