Citizens United finds Pennsylvania

    A Washington-based political committee has convinced a federal judge that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling means Pennsylvania has to let groups that accept union and corporate contributions spend money on Pennsylvania races. And it’s a Democratic group that broke the ice.

    In a way, the most remarkable thing about this development is that you couldn’t do anything to make Pennsylvania’s campaign laws more lax. After all, any law firm or union political committee can donate a million bucks to a candidate here if they want to.

     But for years, the election code has banned direct corporate and union contributions (as distinct from their political action committees).

    Citizens United and other rulings are now changing that. A group called the General Majority PAC (don’t you just love these names?) went to court arguing that Pennsylvania was illegally prohibiting it from spending money here because it accepted checks from corporations and unions.

    The group said that as long as it limits itself to independent expenditures — helping candidates but not coordinating with them — court rulings permit it to operate in the Keystone State. And pretty much anybody who can read a court decision agrees with them.

    So Pennsylvania state attorneys didn’t put up much of a fight and U.S. District Judge William Caldwell issued a preliminary injunction permitting the group to begin working on Pennsylvania races immediately.

    General Majority’s executive director Jonathan Levy told me they don’t have an action plan for Pennsylvania races ready yet, but their lawyers argued in court that they want to get involved in 2014 races.

    Levy told me, in so many words, that Democrats have to catch up with Republicans in putting outside money into state elections.

    “If you look at 2010, Republicans poured about $30 million in a month and a half into state legislative races across the country and flipped 21 (state) houses,” Levy said. “They were then able to redraw all the lines for congressional seats and legislative seats.”

    He’s right, of course. The Republicans have been way ahead of the Democrats on this. Here’s one example from 2010 that I wrote about here in Pennsylvania.

    It should be noted that this Democratic group chose not to organize as a federal super PAC, which has to report all of its contributions. It chose to file as a “527 group,” registered with the IRS and subject to less stringent reporting requirements.

    You can read the General Majority PAC’s lawsuit here.


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