In a stunning reversal of the nation’s federal campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday that as an exercise of free speech, corporations, labor unions and other groups can directly spend on political campaigns.
Siding with filmmakers of “Hillary: The Movie,” who were challenged by the Federal Election Commission on their sources of cash to pay for the film, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that banned corporate and labor money. The decision threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.
The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.
As an advocacy organization, the National Association of Manufacturers believes the right to advocate is protected by the First Amendment. As Justice Stevens wrote in his majority opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:
Premised on mistrust of governmentalpower, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints or to distinguish among different speakers, which may be a means to control content. The Government may also commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. There is no basis for the proposition that, in thepolitical speech context, the Government may impose restrictions oncertain disfavored speakers.
The full opinion is here.
Critics of free speech rights were the quickest to respond to today’s opinion.
- Common Cause, “Supreme Court Decision Creates Political Crisis“
- Ralph Nader, a statement, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process.”
- Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign, Supreme Court Sides with Wall Street
UPDATE (11:15 a.m.): From CQ Politics:
Free speech and anti-regulation groups such as the Center for Competitive Politics applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is not a radical decision because more than half of the states already have these provisions allowing unions and corporations to spend their general treasury funds on direct advocacy,” said Jeff Patch, the organization’s communications director. “There are not any cases of corruption due to independent expenditures that anyone can point to.”
UPDATE (11:40 a.m.): From Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a statement from its executive director, Melanie Sloan:
This is a disaster for regulation of campaign spending. It means ads advocating the election or defeat of federal candidates will no longer be put out just by candidates and parties, but will now also come from corporations and unions.
In other words, this is a disaster for regulation of free speech. We give Sloan credit for including unions in the groups at which she’s dismayed; the news coverage concentrates on the corporate side of the equation.
UPDATE (1 p.m.): Here’s the docket for the case. That’s the longest list of amicus briefs we’ve ever seen.
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