Nonprofit Law as the Tool to Kill What Remains of Campaign Finance Law: Reluctant Lessons from Ellen Aprill
38 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2023
Date Written: February 9, 2023
This brief Essay was prepared for a festschrift honoring the work of Professor Ellen Aprill. I explain in the Essay how Professor Aprill’s deep knowledge of nonprofit and tax law and her relentless intellectual honesty leads her (and us) to an unhappy place: a world in which many of the remaining regulations of money in politics could well be struck down as unconstitutional or rendered wholly ineffective by a Supreme Court increasingly hostile to the goals of campaign finance law and extremely solicitous of religious freedom. Just as the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission used the First Amendment rights of nonprofit corporations to open up direct political spending by large, for-profit corporations, additional arguments about the rights of charitable institutions and other nonprofits will be used to push further judicial deregulation of the political process for all.
Professor Aprill in her most recent writings at the intersection of nonprofit law and election law reluctantly shows the way: a path toward getting churches, synagogues and other charitable institutions directly in the business of politics; a means of striking down or rendering ineffective what remains of our campaign disclosure laws; and a self-reinforcing bootstrapping that relies upon legislative and agency inertia coupled with judicially-created loopholes to argue for the ineffectiveness of the system as a whole, triggering its demise through constitutional litigation. It is a sad but expertly told story of regulatory collapse.
Keywords: Ellen Aprill, campaign finance, disclosure, nonprofit law, tax law, Citizens United v. FEC, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4)
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