Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court eases restrictions on corporate campaign spending

From CNN: In a 5 to 4 ruling, the Supreme court just dealt a sever blow to those of us who contend that big business is running our elections.

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "In a democratic society, the long-standing consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden applications of judge-made rules."

He added, "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

The case was the first one heard on the bench for newest Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and she voted in dissent with her three more liberal colleagues.

The issue hinged on whether corporations' ability to pour money into election campaigns could be strictly regulated, or whether corporations have free-speech rights to spend their cash to influence elections, just as individual donors do.

In this ruling, the justices also nullified earlier rulings upholding the core of a 6-year-old federal law aimed at curbing corporate campaign spending. Under current law, there are severe restrictions on campaign ads used by corporations for federal elections. They generally must be issue-focused -- talking about abortion or taxes, for instance -- and not expressly supporting or opposing a candidate. Those limits have now been generally removed.

The specific case grew out of a documentary on Hillary Clinton. Produced last year by the conservative Citizens United, "Hillary: The Movie" was a scorching attack on the then-presidential candidate. The filmmakers wanted to promote it during the heat of the 2008 primary season, but a federal court blocked any ads, as well as airings on cable television's video on demand.

On that specific question, the justices ruled against Citizens United, saying federal restrictions on broadcast ads are appropriate.

"Citizens United's narrower arguments are not sustainable under a fair reading of the statute," Kennedy wrote.

The Washington-based nonprofit corporation and advocacy organization balked at campaign finance rules that would have required disclosure of its financial backers, and restrictions on when the film could air. It was financed with a mix of corporate and individual donations.

Navigating the complex, ever-evolving landscape of election money rules has spurred a cottage industry of financial, political and legal armies, ready to do battle over the money and the message. The crux of this dispute, like others before it, is just how far the government may go to regulate campaign spending and campaign ads.

In his opinion, Kennedy acknowledged that, but said Americans should be trusted to decide competing election issues.

"The appearance of influence or access," he wrote, "will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy."

"Our nation's speech dynamic is changing, and informative voices should not have to circumvent onerous restrictions to exercise their First Amendment rights," Kennedy said. "The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach."

But Stevens, who read part of his harsh dissent from the bench, said, "The court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding."

Our founding fathers are rolling around in their graves. Look for this move to make a huge difference in this years elections.


At January 21, 2010 at 12:44 PM , Blogger Fred J. said...

What can you even say about this type of ruling? One thing I will say, the majority of the Supreme Court Justices are not in tune with the people of the country, but then, they are not elected and do not owe us anything. Their job is to interpret the Constitution and make sure it is adhered to. Don't quite understand how they got this ruling from what our founding fathers wrote more than 200 years ago.

At January 21, 2010 at 3:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your over my head here Jim but from what I glean from this it is a bad thing. If that is the case, do we have any recourse here?

At January 22, 2010 at 8:24 AM , Blogger Jim Pillsbury said...


If you feel as many do, the ruling by the SJC is going to open the flood gates to more big money influence by corporations and thus, limiting the chances for the little guy running for elected office, you may want to got to and sign a petition.

The Rep from Florida has proposed several bills that would address some of the issues related to the SJC decision, it's now going to pit Obama against all the unions and big businesses that will benefit the R's in this years election cycle.

The bottom line is, you will see more political attack adds on TV. More calls at home, more political advertising in print and web media, paid for by those lucky few with lots of money to stop any attempt at fairness and equal playing fields.

This ruling will change the face of politics in this country and by Nov 5th of this year, you'll see how. The little guy has just lost his place in elections.

At January 22, 2010 at 12:32 PM , Blogger Rich said...

I just don't get this. How can this be something that is good for anyone? Gives corporations the chance to buy elections now, right?

At January 22, 2010 at 1:12 PM , Blogger Jim Pillsbury said...

it does Rich... and when we learn how much money, about 9 million is what I've heard, in campaign contributions from healthcare, insurance and banking interests, given to the Brown campaign.. just days before the election.. and Coakley too from different interests, we will have witnessed first hand what a sudden rush of money can do for candidate, effecting half the voters in this State.

The outcome MAY have been different, if you didn't see or hear him ever 12 minutes or in full page print and web ads.

It'll completely change the face of politics in less than 5 years. Nothing and no one, says any free speech has to be true.... any company can say whatever they want, against anyone else. With big money, free attack speech is a game changer.

And I wonder, if Veterans groups will be willing to support the idea of a "corporations"right to free speech, rather than the "people's free speech? In the global picture, where we rebuild entire societies, modeled after our democracy with constitution rights, will they also, defend "corporations" right to free speech?


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