Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, 539 U.S. 146, 2 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 146 (2003)


against use of corporations as conduits for circumventing "valid contribution limits," Federal Election Comm'n v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm., 533 U. S. 431, 456, and n. 18. Pp. 152-156.

(b) National Right to Work all but decided against NCRL's position that 441b's ban on direct contributions is unconstitutional as applied to nonprofit advocacy corporations. There, this Court upheld the part of 441b restricting a nonstock corporation to its membership when soliciting PAC contributions, concluding that the congressional judgment to regulate corporate political involvement warrants considerable deference and reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers that corporations pose to the electoral process. 459 U. S., at 207-211. It would be hard to read this conclusion, except on the practical understanding that the corporation's capacity to make contributions was legitimately limited to indirect donations within the scope allowed to PACs. And the Court specifically rejected the argument made here, that deference to congressional judgments about corporate contribution limits turns on details of corporate form or the affluence of particular corporations. National Right to Work has repeatedly been read as approving 441b's prohibition on direct contributions, even by nonprofit corporations without great financial resources. Equal significance must be accorded to Federal Election Comm'n v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U. S. 238, on which NCRL and the Fourth Circuit have relied. In holding 441b's prohibition on independent expenditures unconstitutional as applied to a nonprofit advocacy corporation, the Court there distinguished National Right to Work on the ground that it addressed regulation of contributions, not expenditures. Pp. 156-159.

(c) This Court could not hold for NCRL without recasting its understanding of the risks of harm posed by corporate political contributions, of the expressive significance of contributions, and of the consequent deference owed to legislative judgments on what to do about them. NCRL's efforts do not unsettle existing law on these points. Its argument that Massachusetts Citizens for Life-type corporations pose no potential threat to the political system is rejected. Concern about the corrupting potential underlying the corporate ban may be implicated by advocacy corporations, which, like their for-profit counterparts, benefit from state-created advantages and may be able to amass substantial political war chests. Also rejected is NCRL's argument that the application of the ban on direct contributions should be subject to strict scrutiny because 441b bars, rather than limits, contributions based on their source. When reviewing political financial restrictions, the level of scrutiny is based on the importance of the political activity at issue to effective speech or political association, and restrictions on political


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