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When Statutory Regimes Collide:Will Wisconsin Right to Life and Citizens United Invalidate Federal Tax Regulation of Campaign Activity?


Miriam Galston


George Washington University Law School

March 2010

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 499
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 499

Abstract:     
In Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life (2007) and Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010), the United States Supreme Court dramatically reduced the ability of Congress to regulate campaign finance activities of corporations and others active in elections. Many of the same activities are still subject to restrictions by the Internal Revenue Code, which regulates the type and amount of political campaign activities that certain nonprofits exempt under federal tax law can engage in.

In the wake of the campaign finance decisions, the constitutionality of the tax law’s restrictions on campaign activity is now being challenged in the lower courts. This Article analyzes the two recent campaign finance decisions and campaign finance precedents more broadly to determine how, if at all, the Roberts’ Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence is likely to alter existing tax law jurisprudence in the area of campaign activity. It finds that, for the most part, tax law constitutional doctrines have developed independently of other areas of First Amendment free speech law. Based upon an analysis of the distinctive tax law doctrines, the Article concludes that the tax law provision prohibiting section 501(c)(3) charities from engaging in campaigns is likely to withstand challenges arguing that the provision prevents these nonprofits from engaging in protected political speech. However, there is some likelihood that the tax law prohibition is vulnerable to constitutional attack under traditional doctrines of vagueness or overbreadth due to the lack of precision of the terms of the political prohibition, as these have been elaborated by the IRS and the courts to date.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 47

Keywords: election law, campaign finance, tax law,constitutional law, First Amendment, free speech, nonprofits,organizations

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Date posted: March 16, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Galston, Miriam, When Statutory Regimes Collide:Will Wisconsin Right to Life and Citizens United Invalidate Federal Tax Regulation of Campaign Activity? (March 2010). GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 499; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 499. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1572511 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1572511

Contact Information

Miriam Galston (Contact Author)
George Washington University Law School ( email )
2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-6781 (Phone)
202-994-9446 (Fax)
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