Political Law Practice Group partner Ron Jacobs was recently featured in association and nonprofit trade publications on the January 21, 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In the ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on "independent expenditures" and "electioneering communications" made by nonprofit and for-profit corporations. Both for- and nonprofit corporations may now use their general treasury funds (as opposed to their PACs) to make independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
The January 28, 2010 edition of Association Trends featured Jacobs as the lead quote in a round-up of political law and association attorneys commenting on the implications of the Supreme Court decision. The article outlined some considerations that should be taken into account before associations create candidate-specific campaigns.
In the article, Jacobs said that while corporations are now allowed to get into election politics more directly, "I have a hard time believing that a for-profit will want to [make] an individual expenditure in its own name. They will want to do this through their associations. Where associations previously were using PACs, now they can make individual expenditures."
Jacobs advises associations to be careful that their political activities do not become a major purpose of the association, leading it to become a political committee. If this happens, associations can run afoul of the Federal Election Commission, and some electioneering communications may trigger FEC disclosure requirements of donor information.
A January 22, 2010 article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy also quoted Ron in a story on further judicial action that could result from the ruling. According to the article, the new ruling gives such weight to the First Amendment that some legal experts expect it may prompt a charity to challenge the existing rules. Jacobs said it would be a tough case to make, but "it wouldn't surprise me if someone tried it."