Iowa Supreme Court to Decide Campaign Finance Issue Tomorrow

By: Administrator on December 29th, 2011

By Ryan Koopmans

Tomorrow the Iowa Supreme Court will decide an issue that may ultimately determine whether Iowa’s campaign-finance laws are constitutional under Citizens United v. FEC and Buckley v. ValeoThe decision is timely, coming as it does at the apex of the political season here in Iowa.  (Of course, the caucuses implicate federal campaign laws.)

In September of 2010, Iowa Right to Life–represented by campaign-finance crusader James Bopp Jr.–filed a complaint in the Southern District of Iowa (federal court) challenging the constitutionality of Iowa campaign-finance laws. (Bopp has been busy in Iowa.  In addition to this case, Bopp is also representing several plaintiffs in a constitutional challenge to Iowa’s judicial-selection process.  The district court dismissed that lawsuit; it’s now on appeal to the Eighth Circuit.)

Iowa Right to Life claims that Iowa’s new laws–which were enacted in the wake of Citizens United–are still too onerous for organizations making independent expenditures who are not registered as political action committees (PACs)The district court denied Iowa Right to Life’s motion for a preliminary injunction, and threw out most of the claims on summary judgment.  But before the court could rule on all of the claims, it needed some interpretative assistance from the Iowa Supreme Court. 

Iowa Right to Life argued that Iowa’s newly promulgated rules impose PAC-like obligationson on all organizations making independent expenditures of more than $750, and that these rules violate the First Amendment.  The State argued that the rules do no such thing, and thus there is no constitutional problem.  Chief Judge Pratt was inclined to agree with the State, but nonetheless concluded that he is “generally without authority to construe or narrow state statutes.”

So, on June 29, 2011, Chief Judge Pratt asked the Iowa Supreme Court to decide who is right and who is wrong.  He certified two questions to the Iowa Supreme Court, both of which are presented in full after the jump.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case earlier this month (video here), making tomorrow’s decision an historically quick one.  Check back tomorrow for the results.

Questions presented:

1) If a corporation that has not previously registered as a political committee makes independent expenditures aggregating over $750 in a calendar year, does that corporation become, by virtue of such expenditures: (1) an “independent expenditure committee,” as that term is defined in Iowa Admin. Code r. 351—4.1(1)(d); (2) a “political committee,” as that term is defined by Iowa Code § 68A.102(18); or (3) both?

 2) If a corporation that has not previously registered as a political committee and that “was originally organized for purposes other than engaging in election activities” makes independent expenditures aggregating over $750 in a calendar year, does that corporation become, by virtue of such expenditures, a “permanent organization” pursuant to Iowa Code § 68A.402(9)?

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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