Early Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected campaign spending limits on corporations with a 5-4 vote that opens the floodgates to what many fear could become corporate-sponsored elections.
In doing so, the court struck down a long-standing ban on corporate spending on candidate elections. Since 1907, the nation’s campaign finance laws have prevented corporate spending on candidates up for election.
In 1947, that ban was extended to unions.
In 2002, the McCain-Feingold bill further extended the ban to cover loopholes, including restricting corporate-funded election ads 30 days before an election.
While the provisions have been upheld in the past, today’s vote by a more conservative court reversed McCain- Feingold and struck down any ban on corporate spending, reports NPR.
Corporations First Amendment Rights
Judge Anthony Kennedy wrote the decision for the court saying that the marketplace of ideas includes corporations, which represent a significant segment of society. He suggested that government interference might amount to censorship since the First Amendment guarantees free speech.
“The court ruled that the first Amendment – designed to protect the speech of real, live humans – guarantees for-profit corporations the right to influence elections,” says Robert Weissman, president of the consumer group, Public Citizen.
Justice John Paul Stevens calls the decision a radical departure from precedent of 100 years of law. He says corporations already use political action committees to fund elections, though they are regulated and the amount limited.
Corporations have generally supported Republican candidates, so they are the likely beneficiaries of this high court ruling. The question remaining is to what extent corporations and labor unions will take advantage of their new found power.
The 2004 film, The Corporation, explores the issue of corporations enjoying the legal rights of a person (First Amendment right to free speech), without the consequences of unlawful behavior, such as federal pre-emption.
“What kind of person is it?” the film asks.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Service Employees International Union denounced the decision.
Union spokeswoman Lori Lodes says, “I don’t think working people would ever have as much to spend as corporations. For us, being able to spend a few extra dollars isn’t worth allowing decision to be made from boardrooms instead of the polling booth.”
“With this decision, huge corporations like Goldman Sachs and AIG will be able to use their enormous wealth to run campaigns against the president or any person who might oppose their agenda” says Lisa Graves, Executive Director of CMD.
The Center for Media & Democracy and Public Citizen, both advocacy groups, are circulating a petition, Americans Before Corporations, to pass a constitutional amendment to restore humans to the center of the political process, not corporations.
Public Citizen has prepared a video on what is it planning in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. Their Web site with the petition is Don’t Get Rolled.
The case before the court was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. #