The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on their participation in federal campaigns.It shows what a difference of one position on the Court can make as Samuel Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor's position in McConnell v. FEC.
By a 5-4 vote, the court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, 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.
Advocates of strong campaign finance regulations have predicted that a court ruling against the limits would lead to a flood of corporate and union money in federal campaigns as early as this year's midterm congressional elections.
The decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, removes limits on independent expenditures that are not coordinated with candidates' campaigns.
It leaves in place a prohibition on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions
This decision is a blow for a common-sense understanding of the First Amendment. Expect a lot of howls about how this will let loose so much more money in political campaigns. Well, have you noticed any lack of spending in elections since we passed the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act or 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. When will people learn that just passing a law to limit spending by certain groups doesn't remove money from politics? It always finds a way. As long as government is involved in every aspect of our lives, people with specific interests will want to influence government. And banning corporations and unions from spending 60 days before an election didn't make any sense when every mysterious 527 or 501(c) group could air as many ads as they wanted.
Steve Hoersting at Bench Memos comments,
The Austin [199-] precedent was always an outlier, upholding as it did outright bans on corporate (and union) electoral speech to prevent “corrosive and distorting effects” on political debate by “large aggregations of wealth” garnered via the corporate form. In short, the Austin rationale was gussied up egalitarianism; silencing some to make way for others. This had always been “foreign to the First Amendment,” with the Court making clearer, since the high-water mark for regulation in McConnell v. FEC, and with the arrival of C.J. Roberts and J. Alito, that campaign finance restrictions are constitutional only to prevent the corruption of candidates that may one day act as elected officials....
For now, there is little doubt that the Citizens United ruling will free up many more resources for politics in coming election cycles. We can expect existing unions to turn on the spigots even more openly, and for new entities to crop up to accept corporate money.
The only real question is whether corporations brave enough to take advantage of the opinion, and go against the Democrats, will risk audits or the nationalization of their businesses.