A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky cannot bar a corporation from contributing to political campaigns while no such restrictions apply to other organizations such as labor unions.
The ruling stems from the heated battle over “right-to-work” legislation in the state: the labor unions that oppose those measures are allowed to make political donations, while a non-profit corporation that promotes them is not.
I have not yet seen this opinion (if anyone has it please send it along), but it seems to conflict with the Supreme Court’s equal protection holding in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which rejected just such an argument because Michigan’s law (on expenditures) targeted corporations (though not media corporations) but not unions:
Because we hold that § 54(1) does not violate the First Amendment, we must address the Chamber’s contention that the provision infringes its rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Chamber argues that the statute treats similarly situated entities unequally. Specifically, it contends that the State should also restrict the independent expenditures of unincorporated associations with the ability to accumulate large treasuries and of corporations engaged in the media business.
Because the right to engage in political expression is fundamental to our constitutional system, statutory classifications impinging upon that right must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U. S. 92, 101 (1972). We find that, even under such strict scrutiny, the statute’s classifications pass muster under the Equal Protection Clause. As we explained in the context of our discussions of whether the statute was overinclusive, supra, at 660-661, or underinclusive, supra, at 665 and this page, the State’s decision to regulate only corporations is precisely tailored to serve the compelling state interest of eliminating from the political process the corrosive effect of political “war chests” amassed with the aid of the legal advantages given to corporations.
Although a different aspect of Austin was overruled in Citizens United, I believe this aspect of the opinion remains good law.
Update: Opinion: Protect My Check v. Dilger (EDKY)