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January 3, 2018

Corporate campaign donations case heads to SJC

Google The owner of 126 Self Storage in Ashland is a plaintiff in a case arguing that campaign finance laws are unfair to companies.

The Supreme Judicial Court in March will hear oral arguments in a case brought by conservative business-owners who have challenged state laws prohibiting corporations from donating to state candidates.

The businesses 126 Self Storage Inc. and 1A Auto Inc. sued the state in 2015 arguing the laws are unfair to businesses because unions can donate up to $15,000 to a candidate for state office. Rick Green, president of 1A, is a Republican candidate to succeed Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.

Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson last April ruled in favor of the defendants in the suit, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, finding that the distinction between labor and corporate political giving "serves the anti-corruption interest" used by the state as justification for the law. 

In August the business groups, who have the legal backing of the Goldwater Institute, appealed for the SJC to review Wilson's decision and the state did not oppose that motion, according to the plaintiffs' brief. The state's brief is due Feb. 5, according to the attorney general's office.

State law prohibits corporations from contributing to candidates, PACs or party committees, and businesses cannot "establish, finance, maintain, or control" a PAC that supports candidates, the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote in their brief.

Conversely under specific circumstances, a union may contribute up to $15,000 to a single political candidate, which is 15 times the limit for individual contributions. 

"There is no legitimate justification for allowing unions and non-profits to contribute thousands of dollars to candidates, parties and political committees, while completely banning any contributions from businesses," the plaintiffs wrote.

In December, the court clerk told parties the office was scheduling oral arguments for dates in early March and both sides anticipate a March court date.

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