During the 2008 presidential campaign, the conservative group Citizens United made a movie critical of Hillary Clinton but was barred from distributing it on local cable systems because federal courts said it “looked and sounded like a long campaign ad, and therefore should be regulated like one.” The Supreme Court then took up the case and in its much-anticipated decision, today ruled 5–4 to allow corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support for, or opposition of, federal candidates. The monumental ruling throws out a “a 63-year-old law designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections.
One Republican attorney said that the new ruling basically turns the political landscape into the “Wild Wild West.” Another GOP election lawyer said that the ruling represents “a huge sea-change in campaign finance law. The Court went all the way. It really relieves any restrictions on corporate spending on independent advertising.”
As Common Cause noted, the ruling “will enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress.” U.S. PIRG called it a “shocking burst of judicial activism” that treats corporations “in the same manner as ordinary citizens.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 said the ruling will “create unprecedented opportunities for corporate ‘influence-buying’ corruption.”
The ruling is a giant win for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations, which tend to donate heavily to Republicans. Many Republicans have therefore come out and praised today’s decision:
— Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): “It is about a nonprofit group’s ability to speak about the public issue. I can’t think of a more fundamental First Amendment issue. … [The ruling could] open up resources that have not previously been available [for Republicans].” [NYT]
— Rep. Steve King (R-IA): “The Constitution protects the rights of citizens and employers to express their viewpoints on political issues. Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms the Bill of Rights and is a victory for liberty and free speech.” [Statement]
— Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN): “If the freedom of speech means anything, it means protecting the right of private citizens to voice opposition or support for their elected representatives. The fact that the Court overturned a 20-year precedent speaks volumes about the importance of this issue.” [Statement]
— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): The court took a step toward “restoring the First Amendment rights [of corporations and unions]. … By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers.” [AP]
— RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC, serves as an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment. Free speech strengthens our democracy.” [Statement]
— Senate Candidate Marco Rubio: “Today’s SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold is a victory for free speech.” [Statement]
The Court’s ruling also struck down part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation “that barred union– and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.” Sen. Russ Feingold called the Court’s ruling a “terrible mistake,” but pointed out that it “does not affect McCain-Feingold’s soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate contributions to the political parties from corrupting the political process.” “The Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president,” he said. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) reacted similarly, saying he was “disappointed” in the decision.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) called the today’s ruling the “worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case.” First Read observes that in this case, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to step beyond his promise to act like an umpire “to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
,Statement from President Obama: “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.”
,Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) told the Huffington Post that she finds the ruling “regrettable” and “disappointing.”