In a landmark 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today in Citizens United v. FEC struck down major portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. The Court left in place the disclosure requirement for corporations and the disclaimer requirement that identifies whether an ad is not paid for by the campaign. But little else remains. The Court overruled the highly controversial 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates. As this report notes:
The majority, invoking the Constitution’s free-speech clause, said the government lacks a legitimate basis to restrict independent campaign expenditures by companies. . .“The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. Companies, which had been barred since 1947 from spending money in support or opposition to a candidate, potentially now will pump millions of dollars into campaigns. Companies, and possibly labor unions as well, will be able to use their general-treasury dollars to punish or reward lawmakers for their votes on legislation.
This is a vindication of the First Amendment and a victory for the protection of political speech, which is at the heart of our political system. It will certainly increase the amount of speech. Even the New York Times recognizes this (well, sort of):
The ruling was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace will corrupt democracy.
The 5-to-4 decision was a doctrinal earthquake but also a political and practical one. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision, which also applies to labor unions and other organizations, to reshape the way elections are conducted.
Republicans may see some tactical advantage here, as corporations wary of the Obama regime may now help fund Republican Senate and House candidates seeking to block the Obama anti-business agenda. But it would be a mistake to assume that corporations that seem to have perfected the art of feeding at the government trough and which are vulnerable to the ever-increasing reach of the Obama administration won’t cover their bets by giving to both sides. Moreover, this is a victory plain and simple for the Constitution and for the essential notion that if there is a “problem” with certain types of speech, the solution is more speech, not the heavy hand of government censors.