Ban on Political Contributions from Medicaid Providers Upheld

The constitutionality of an Ohio statute prohibiting Medicaid providers or owners of Medicaid providers from making contributions to candidates to the office of Attorney General or county prosecutor in Ohio, was recently upheld in the decision of Lavin v. Husted.  Medicaid providers challenged the  state law as an unconstitutional limit on their First amendment right to free speech.

 A state law must meet two requirements for a ban on political contributions to not be considered an unconstitutional limitation on free speech:

  • (1) the law must be closely drawn to advance a sufficiently important state interest, and
  •  (2) the law must be a marginal restriction of free speech that does not preclude or ban a majority of other types of free speech.

The United States District Court for the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Ohio determined that the Ohio law met both of these requirements.

Marginal and closely drawn

While the Ohio statute places a ban on contributions from Medicaid providers or owners of Medicaid providers to these particular type of candidates, it does not (1) prevent Medicaid providers or their owners from making contributions to political action committees or political parties that support these candidates; (2) place a limit on a family member or employees of a Medicaid provider or owner from contributing to a candidate; nor (3) infringe upon a Medicaid provider’s ability to make symbolic expression of support or prevent any provider or owner from participating in any other First Amendment activity in support of a candidate for these offices. For these reasons the statute places only a marginal restriction on the free speech protections of the First Amendment and it meets the requirements for limiting contributions established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).

Also in Buckley , the Supreme Court determined that limitations on political contributions did not violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech if the limitation was closely drawn to advance a sufficiently important state interest. The district court found that the Ohio Secretary of State presented sufficient evidence regarding Medicaid fraud in Ohio, and the role of county prosecutors and the Attorney General in combating that fraud, to justify limiting campaign contributions under this closely drawn principle. Banning political contributions to these elected officials was one way to prevent the corruption, or the appearance of corruption, in the prosecution of Medicaid fraud.

Overbreadth argument

The Medicaid providers also argued that the state law would prohibit political contributions from an individual owning just one stock of large chain stores that fills Medicaid prescriptions, as they would be considered an owner of a Medicaid provider. Even though the providers  did not have standing to make this argument, as none of them were stockholders in these stores, they relied on the overbreadth doctrine which permits litigants to challenge a statute not because their own rights of free expression are violated, but on the basis that the statute’s very existence may cause others not before the court to refrain from constitutionally protected speech. The district court found that since this case does not involve pure speech, but rather, a form of expression that (1) can be limited due to its marginal restriction and (2) is closely drawn to further a sufficiently important government interest, the alleged overbreadth is not substantial enough to justify invalidating the state statute.