Lawsuit challenges new state law on corporate campaign activity

The Iowa Right-to-Life Committee filed a lawsuit in federal court against Attorney General Tom Miller, the executive director of the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board, the six members of the Iowa Ethics Board and Polk County Attorney John Sarcone.

Read more about the lawsuit here.  News releases from the law firm handling the case as well as from legislators are copied below.

Corporation Sues Iowa For Violating First Amendment Right To Produce Political Ads, Make Contributions
Iowa Right to Life, Inc. wants to be able to make contributions to political parties and/or candidates, and also produce political ads supporting the candidates it likes. The First Amendment says it has the right to do these things. But Iowa law forbids it.
Iowa says that corporations cannot make political ads without a PAC, which requires burdensome registration, record-keeping, and reporting requirements. But the Supreme Court recently ruled in a case called Citizens United that corporations have a First Amendment right to make political ads, without having to create a PAC. So Iowa requires the very thing the Supreme Court said is unconstitutional.
Iowa also bans political contributions from corporations. But other types of associations— such as unincorporated labor unions—are free to contribute to candidates. This treats corporations differently than everybody else, and prevents them from making contributions they want to make. 
As a result Iowa Right to Life, Inc. filed suit in federal court yesterday, asking the Judge to strike these unconstitutional laws.
James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for Iowa Right to Life, stated, “The Supreme Court said in Citizens United that corporations have free-speech rights. Iowa’s attempt to subvert the Supreme Court and burden the speech of corporations is unconstitutional. And, the Constitution guarantees that there will be equal protection under the law. The way Iowa singles out corporations violates the Equal Protection guarantee.”
The case is before the Honorable Robert Pratt, District Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The case number is 4:10-cv-00416-RP-TJS, and is known as IRTL v. Miller. The complaint may be viewed at

Lawsuit seeks to derail first-in-the-nation reforms to protect elections from unfettered corporate spending

‘The timing of this lawsuit is based on the election calendar, not good policy’

DES MOINES – Iowa’s reputation for clean campaigns is threatened by a politically motivated lawsuit against a new Iowa law designed to protect citizens from unregulated campaign spending by big corporations and shadowy organizations, a key legislator said today.

“The lawsuit filed by the Iowa Right to Life Committee is a political stunt that is designed to keep Iowa voters in the dark in the final weeks of this campaign,” said Senator Jeff Danielson of Cedar Falls, the floor manager of Iowa’s newest landmark campaign spending legislation. “‘The timing of this lawsuit is based on the election calendar, not good policy. Iowa voters have to be wondering what the Iowa Right to Life Committee is attempting to hide.”

The chief complaint by the Iowa Right to Life Committee in the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court is that corporations shouldn’t have to file the simple disclosure statements showing Iowa voters how they are attempting to influence elections.

“Republican and Democratic legislators voted overwhelmingly to strengthen our laws to protect Iowa voters from a flood of anonymous, negative advertisements funded by big corporations,” said Danielson. “Iowa voters deserve full disclosure. Iowans do not want the Iowa Right to Life Committee and other interest groups to take control of our democracy.”

Landmark legislation (Senate File 2354) was passed during the 2010 session is designed to ensure that Iowa voters’ mailboxes and airwaves aren’t filled with a flood of unregulated campaign advertising by big corporations and shadow organizations.

The Iowa Right to Life Committee did not register to lobby for or against this legislation, according to public records.
“Iowans can be proud of our reputation as a place where elections are about ideas and issues rather than money and attack ads,” said Danielson. “This lawsuit threatens to undermine Iowa’s reputation and helps shadowy special interests — not Iowa voters – decide who’s elected in our state.”

Danielson said he is confident that the Iowa Attorney General’s office will vigorously defend this landmark legislation.

Senate File 2354 was approved by an overwhelming margin, 49 to 1, in the Iowa Senate, and by a unanimous 98-0 vote in the Iowa House. The goals of new landmark law include ensuring Iowans have a clearer picture of how big corporations and other interest groups are raising and spending money on political advertising and other campaign activities in our state.

In Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political free speech rights as individual citizens.  For the first time in modern campaigns, big corporations can use their vast treasuries to influence Iowa elections.

The new law includes: 
►     Requiring corporations to file all statements and reports electronically for independent expenditures (on the same schedule as the office or election to which the independent expenditure was directed).
►     Requiring corporations to put “paid for by” statements—including the name and address of the corporation or union, and the name and title of the corporation’s CEO—on all published and electronic communications.
►     Requiring corporations to file a statement with the Campaign Finance Disclosure Board within 48 hours of making of an independent expenditure.
►     Barring corporations from using an advertising firm or consultant that has also been used by the candidate, candidate’s committee or ballot issue committee that benefit from the independent expenditure.
►     Requiring the approval of a board of directors (or similar leadership body) before a corporation makes independent expenditures that expressly advocate for or against a candidate.

Finally, a foreign national is prohibited from making an independent expenditure of any kind in Iowa.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.