By a 2-1 vote, the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday sided with a federal judge in allowing a state campaign finance law to require corporations to disclose when they spend money to support or defeat a candidate.
The three-judge panel also said it was unlikely that a group arguing that such requirements are unconstitutional would prevail in their lawsuit.
The result of the Appeals Court decision is that the restrictions and requirements present in state law will continue.
"Minnesota did not ban corporate independent expenditures," the Appeals Court wrote. "Instead, based upon the lower court's findings, as strongly supported by the record, we find that Minnesota created a statutory scheme designed to require corporations to disclose certain information when making independent expenditures."
Those disclosures are allowed by federal law, the court ruled.
The decision affirms a ruling by U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in September 2010, in which he refused to strike down the law. In his ruling, Frank said that voters have "an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate on the eve of an election."
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Coastal Travel Enterprises argue that Minnesota law hampers their right to free speech by improperly limiting corporate support for candidates and causes.
At the heart of the dispute is a law passed by the Legislature in 2010 requiring reports on corporate spending for or against candidates. The law requires two reports to be filed before the primary and two more before the general election. The law also applies to groups supported by unions.
One of those reports before the primary elections last year showed that Target, Best Buy and other corporations gave to MN Forward, a pro-business group that is buying ads to support GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. The disclosures riled groups at odds with Emmer's opposition to same-sex marriage, and they launched a blistering attack on the companies.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that bans on "independent" expenditures were an infringement on free speech. But the court also said states could require disclosure of such spending. As a result, the Legislature amended the law to require disclosure.
A Minnesota corporation may donate its own money to an existing independent expenditure committee or fund without providing any information beyond its name and address. If the business solicits and receives contributions beyond its general treasury revenue, it must disclose the source of the contributions.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428