Will This Case Be the Next Citizens United?

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 23, 2013

Arlington, Va.—Can the government ban corporate political speech and association based on no evidence? That is the question raised by a provocative friend-of-the-court brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court today by the Institute for Justice on behalf of two leading campaign finance scholars. The brief urges the Court to grant review in Iowa Right to Life, Inc. v. Tooker, a First Amendment challenge to an Iowa law that prohibits corporations from making political contributions.


The Supreme Court held in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations could not be prohibited from spending money on their own political speech, but left open the question of whether corporations could be prohibited from making political contributions. Under Iowa law, individuals and labor unions are permitted to make unlimited contributions to state political candidates. But corporations—including nonprofit corporations—are prohibited from contributing even a single dollar to political candidates. Proponents of Iowa’s ban on corporate political contributions argue that allowing such contributions would create an “appearance of corruption” that would lead the public to lose trust in government.

Research by campaign finance experts David M. Primo, Ph.D., and Jeffrey D. Milyo, Ph.D., challenge those claims. Dr. Primo is the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Professor and Associate Professor of Political Science and Business Administration at the University of Rochester. Dr. Milyo is a Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Together, they have conducted groundbreaking studies finding that campaign finance laws like Iowa’s have no significant effect on public perceptions of government.

Dr. Primo said, “Campaign finance laws vary widely from state to state, and our studies have found no evidence that people in states with more restrictive laws have more positive feelings about government. Simply put, laws like Iowa’s restrict political speech and association without a legitimate justification.”

Dr. Milyo added, “Our results are not surprising or an outlier. The weight of evidence from scholarly research simply does not support the strong claims made by defenders of these laws.”

IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman, who filed the brief on behalf of Drs. Primo and Milyo, said, “This case highlights the vital importance of judicial engagement, a willingness on the part of judges to take evidence seriously in all constitutional cases. Too many courts ignore actual social science evidence about the role of money in politics and rely instead on hunches or anecdotes. The Supreme Court should grant review in this case and make clear that the First Amendment demands more—it demands real evidence. If the proponents of these laws cannot supply that evidence, these laws should be struck down.”