This morning the Supreme Court denied review in Danielczyk v. United States, a criminal case in which the defendants challenged the century-old federal ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates. The district court had granted a motion to dismiss Count Four of the indictment, alleging that the defendants had directed corporate money to a 2008 presidential campaign, based on the reasoning of Citizens United v. FEC. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, however, reversed and reinstated the charge.
A key question in both the district and appellate courts was whether Citizens United had upended earlier Supreme Court precedents upholding the corporate contribution ban. The district court found that Citizens United’s disapproval of treating corporations and individuals differently with respect to independent expenditures should apply as well to direct corporate contributions to candidates. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, holding that the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the ban in FEC v. Beaumont controlled.
This case is emblematic of the confusion in lower courts created by Citizens United. How far the reasoning of that case extends and which precedents it sweeps away (if any) is still being sorted out. For the most part, courts have looked to the Supreme Court to take the first step in applying Citizens United to other contexts, should it see fit. With respect to corporate contributions, though, the wait and some uncertainty continues for now because the Supreme Court’s denial of review is not a statement on the merits of the constitutional questions raised.