Are corporate contributions to candidates truly more corrupting than an identical contribution from an individual? Or does the government just say so?
CCP has written before about United States v. Danielczyk, a case currently before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on the constitutionality of the Federal ban on corporate contributions. Yesterday, CCP filed a friend of the court (amicus) brief in that case. Two of CCP’s academic advisers Jeff Milyo and David Primo, acting independently of CCP, filed their own amicus brief as well, correcting the government’s interpretation of their research.
The government’s case in Danielczyk relies on the claim that the Federal ban on corporate contributions is “closely drawn” to serve a “sufficiently important interest.” That “interest” is preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. Everyone agrees that preventing corruption is hugely important. The question is whether the government should have to show corruption, or can simply assert it.
CCP pointed out that authoritative data (U.S. Department of Justice statistics on public corruption convictions) undermines the government’s claim. In fact, of the five states with the highest indices of corruption convictions, four states prohibit corporate contributions, while four of the five states with the lowest levels of corruption convictions permit them. In fact, one of the least corrupt states in the country, according to Justice Department data, is Oregon – which permits unlimited corporate contributions.
The government relied on data from Drs. Milyo and Primo to argue that voters in states with corporate contribution prohibitions perceived their governments to be less corrupt than voters in states without such bans. But as the good professors pointed out in their brief, “The United States’ mistake [was] founded upon a misunderstanding of the distinction between “statistical significance” and “substantive significance.” In fact, the “overwhelming majority of empirical studies have found virtually no relationship between trust in government and political contributions and spending.”
The government’s argument that a corporate contribution ban prevents corruption or the appearance of corruption has no statistical basis in fact, or at least none they could present to the Fourth Circuit. And mere assertions shouldn’t decide the scope of the First Amendment.