In three cases brought by North Carolina Right to Life, Boyle has ruled in favor of NCRL and ruled unconstitutional federal or state laws regulating campaign finance. Boyle was reversed at least in part in all three cases, including two reversals by the Supreme Court.
In Beaumont v. FEC, 137 F.Supp. 2d 648 (E.D.N.C 2000), members and officers of North Carolina Right to Life and others challenged the provisions of federal law and regulation that prohibit corporations from making direct contributions to support or oppose candidates for federal office. Id. at 650. According to Boyle, these rules are unconstitutional as applied to “non-profit, ideological” corporations like NCRL which, he claimed, “pose[d] no threat to the political forum.” Id. at 653. Boyle dismissed the FEC’s argument that any burden the ban placed on First Amendment rights was lessened by allowing corporations to establish a “segregated fund” from which they can make limited, direct contributions to candidates for public office, because such funds are subject to reporting requirements and other “administrative burdens.” Id. at 656. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Beaumont v. FEC, 278 F.3d 261 (2002).
In a 7-2 vote, however, the Supreme Court reversed. FEC v. Beaumont, 593 U.S. 146 (2002). The Court found that the ban did not violate the First Amendment and therefore was constitutional. Id. at 149. The court recognized that the basis for the ban was to protect the public from the potentially harmful influence of corporate dollars aimed at federal campaigns. Id. at 152.
The Court rejected the position that the non-profit corporations that Boyle referred to as innocuous and ideological “on a class-wide basis . . . pose no potential threat to the political system.” Id. at 159. “They, like their for-profit counterparts, benefit from significant ‘state-created advantages’ . . . and may well be able to amass substantial ‘political war chests.” Id. at 160 (quoting Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990) and FEC v. National Right to Work, 459 U.S. 197 (1982)). The Court noted that “not all corporations that qualify for favorable tax treatment under 501(c)(4) . . . lack substantial resources, and the category covers some of the Nation’s most politically powerful organizations, including the AARP, the National Rifle Association, and the Sierra Club.” Id. at 160. In addition, “[n]onprofit corporations are . . . no less susceptible than traditional business companies to misuse as conduits for circumventing the contribution limits imposed on individuals.” Id. The Court also noted that allowing non-profits to establish a PAC was an adequate method of allowing “some participation of unions and corporations in the federal electoral process.” Id. at 162 (quoting National Right to Work, 459 U.S. at 201).
Two other campaign finance decisions by Boyle favoring NCRL have been reversed at least in part. In NCRL v. Leake, 124 S.Ct. 2065 (2004), the Supreme Court vacated a Fourth Circuit ruling that largely affirmed a Boyle opinion, declaring unconstitutional several portions of North Carolina campaign finance law requiring disclosure of certain expenditures in light of the Court’s decision in McConnell v. FEC, 124 S.Ct. 619 (2003). And in NCRL v. Bartlett, 3 F.Supp. 2d 657 (E.D.N.C. 1998), Boyle struck down several provisions of North Carolina law, including a prohibition on legislators or candidates accepting or soliciting contributions from lobbyists while the state General Assembly was in session. The Fourth Circuit reversed Boyle with regard to his holding that this ban was unconstitutional. 168 F.3d 705 (1999). The court noted that, “[i]n fact, the activities of lobbyists are extensively regulated,” and also characterized the statute as doing “nothing more than plac[ing] a temporary hold on appellees’ ability to contribute during the General Assembly session, leaving them free to contribute during the rest of the calendar year.” Id. at 715.
The Fourth Circuit also went on to explain that the statute advanced a compelling state interest. The court pointed out that prohibiting contributions to non-incumbents as well as incumbents served the state’s goals because “contributions to incumbents [are not] the only way to gain favorable treatment . . . [S]ticks can work as well as carrots, and the threat of contributing to a legislator’s challenger can supply as powerful an incentive as contributing to that legislator himself.” Id. at 716. The court also rejected Boyle’s contention that the statute was faulty for failing to discriminate between large and small contributions because the “court has no scalpel to prove such fine distinctions” as which contributions are “large enough to support a potential quid pro quo” and which are not. Id. (internal quote omitted). The Supreme Court denied certiorari, 528 U.S. 1153 (2000).