- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky cannot bar a corporation from contributing to political campaigns while no such restrictions apply to other organizations such as labor unions.

The ruling stems from the heated battle over “right-to-work” legislation in the state: the labor unions that oppose those measures are allowed to make political donations, while a non-profit corporation that promotes them is not.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove ruled on Thursday that Kentucky Registry of Election Finance officials cannot enforce the state’s constitutional prohibition on corporate contributions, finding the disparate treatment of corporations and unincorporated organizations violates the Constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Florida-based company Protect My Check, which advocates for “right-to-work” laws. The company argued that unions are allowed to make contributions to push their side of the political issue, but they were forbidden from responding in kind. Other entities are allowed to give up to $1,000 to candidates and $2,500 to parties.

Right-to-work legislation had been a polarizing issue in Kentucky’s General Assembly. The Republican-led Senate has backed such bills but they have died in the Democratic-run House.

The Goldwater Institute heralded the ruling as a victory for bringing equity to the democratic process.

“Businesses and their owners have every right to express their political beliefs and support candidates_just as labor unions do,” Jim Manley, a senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute, wrote in a statement. “Laws like this unfairly put a thumb on the scales by letting one side make contributions that the other side can’t.”

Five other states have similar bans on corporate contributions.

The judge denied the Goldwater Institute’s argument that corporate political contributions are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

Emily Dennis, who represented the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, declined to comment on the ruling and said the state is still reviewing the order and weighing its options.

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