A key appellate court on Tuesday upheld a long-standing ban on campaign contributions by individual federal contractors.
Citing “important concerns” that include combatting both the appearance and the reality of corruption, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected claims that the contribution ban violated the First Amendment and equal protectioon guarantees.
“These important concerns supporting (the law) are neither theoretical nor antiquated, but rather are grounded in unhappy experience stretching to the present day,” Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland wrote.
Remarkably, all 11 judges sitting en banc joined in the decision. No dissents, no concurring opinions. Usually, campaign finance reform cases seem to splinter courts; but, as Garland noted, the case called Wagner v. Federal Election Commission was “somewhat unusual.”
“There is no dispute regarding the legitimacy or importance of the interests that support the contractor contribution ban,” Garland stated, adding that the ban “is not only supported by the ‘compelling’ interest in protecting against quid pro quo corruption and its appearance” but also by the ‘obviously important interest’ in protecting merit-based public administration.”
The challenge only attacked the ban enacted in 1940 as it relates to individual contractors, not corporations. Wendy E. Wagner, a University of Texas Law School professor, and two others brought the challenge in 2011.
But the “historical pedigree” of the campaign contribution ban, the court observed, dates back to the 1870s; the modern need, the judges agreed, remains strong.
“Recent evidence confirms that human nature has not changed since corrupt quid pro quos and other attacks on merit-based administration first spurred the development of the present legislative scheme,” Garland wrote.