In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court has struck down a Montana statute prohibiting a corporation from making political contributions to candidates or political committees supporting or opposing PACs. In American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, the Court effectively held that its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission applies to state laws barring corporate and labor union contributions to candidates and PACs. A similar Texas law, currently enshrined in Sec. 253.094, Election Code, has presumably been rendered a dead letter by the Court’s ruling. A copy of the ruling is available on the Supreme Court website at http://www.supremecourt.gov/.
The potential impact of the Court’s extension of Citizens United on Texas elections remains to be seen. It is, however, evident that corporations may now make direct campaign contributions in state and local elections. The Texas Judicial Campaign Fairness Act may be affected, since corporate-backed third-party PACs or corporations wishing to make direct expenditures can probably bypass the voluntary contributions limitations (as individually-funded third party PACs can already do). Citizens United and the Montana case would appear to leave mandatory state limitations on direct contributions in place, but the inability to regulate third-party expenditures substantially reduces the effectiveness of such limitations, at least for their stated public policy purposes.
Regardless of the longer term effects of the Court’s decisions, corporations are likely to move cautiously into the realm of direct participation in Texas elections. Perception is still a major consideration, so affiliated PACs such as the TCJL PAC will continue to have an important role to play for the foreseeable future.