FRANKFORT — A Florida-based group is challenging in court a Kentucky law that bans corporations from making political contributions to candidates and parties.
The group, Protect My Check, is a corporation dedicated to pushing legislation that allows people to work for unionized employers without joining a union.
It is being represented by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative, libertarian-leaning public policy and public-interest law organization based in Phoenix. The Goldwater Institute filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Frankfort against the state Registry of Election Finance, which oversees campaign finance law in Kentucky.
John Steffen, executive director of the state election finance registry, said he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it.
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Protect My Check is a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization, meaning it doesn't have to publicly disclose any of its donors. It was formed Sept. 15 and has promised to pay the legal bills for any Kentucky county trying to implement so-called "right-to-work" ordinances that would allow workers at unionized companies not to join unions. Several counties have passed such ordinances, but some are being challenged in court.
Several of Protect My Check's officials have interests in other corporate entities, including Mycheckmychoice.Org. Inc.
The Goldwater Institute said the Kentucky law gives unions an unfair advantage. They may directly contribute as much as $1,000 to candidates and as much as $2,500 to political parties.
The institute also said that unincorporated businesses organized as LLCs are allowed to directly contribute the same amounts to candidates and political parties.
In addition, political action committees that are financed by unions and LLCs can contribute to candidates, parties and other PACs, but corporate-financed PACs are banned from contributing altogether.
"Preventing corporations from making any political contributions at all is a violation of the free speech and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and state constitutions," said Jim Manley, one of the Goldwater Institute attorneys representing the businesses.
"It also directly conflicts with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions."
Besides Kentucky, five other states ban businesses from making political contributions: Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana and West Virginia.
None of these states bans labor unions or other special interest groups from engaging in the political process.
In these states, Manley said, unions are free to spend millions to promote their political allies, but businesses that want to support pro-business candidates are hampered because they are able to contribute only to independent expenditure groups that are prohibited by law from coordinating with candidates.
"There is room to debate many campaign finance regulations, but this is not one of them. A total ban on corporations participating in the political process — while their counterparts from the other side of the bargaining table dole out stacks of cash to their preferred candidates and committees — is unfair and unconstitutional from any perspective," Manley said.
Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, said, "It is unconscionable that Protect My Check would contest our election laws that protect the integrity of the public."
Londrigan said political contributions from union members are "purely voluntary," and "corporations do not have the mechanisms like political action committees that unions have to make political contributions."
The purpose of the lawsuit, Londrigan said, is "to continue the quest by right-wingers to undo unions and proper wages for Kentuckians."