The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

August 7, 2013

Judge strikes down W.Va. PAC contribution limit

CHARLESTON — A federal judge says West Virginia’s cap on contributions to political action committees is unconstitutional.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston cited the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens vs. United. It allows unlimited direct spending by corporations and unions on elections.

Johnston wrote in his ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court “has recognized only one government interest sufficiently important to outweigh the First Amendment interests implicated by contributions for political speech: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

The Citizens United decision “concluded that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Johnston wrote.

Johnston’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Stay the Course West Virginia and two of its potential donors against Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The lawsuit challenged the state’s $1,000-per-election cap on contributions to PACs that spend independently of candidates.

Tennant had argued that the cap serves the public interest by limiting the perceived influence of campaign cash. She said Wednesday that she disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling but that she will not appeal Johnston’s decision.

“To continue to press what is an unwinnable position will do nothing but run up the tab for which the state will be responsible and which will not result in the overturning of ‘Citizens United,”’ Tennant said in a news release.

Media outlets report that Johnston issued his ruling Tuesday.

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