Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court reverses on campaign contributions; some are protected by First Amendment


The Supreme Court has reversed itself with respect to a 20 year old ruling, now saying that corporations (and probably labor unions) may use money from their own treasuries to pay for campaign ads. The AP story by Mark Sherman just appeared on AOL and Sphere, link here. To a large extent, campaign contributions are protected by the First Amendment. The ruling was 5-4; dissenters were Stevens, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg. However, in this case, the "conservative" side may have been more favorable to bloggers and citizen journalism, even if in another sense it could beef up almagamated corporate or union interests. That's a good essay question (below).

The case is “Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission”, slip opinion here.

Much of the debate concerned whether the "conservative" documentary movie "Hillary: The Movie", when shown, amounted to a "campaign contribution" since it was about an active candidate.

The visitor may also want to read the Supreme Court’s explanation of what a “slip opinion” is here (government teachers – it’s a good test question!; stave off that senioritis!)

The older ruling created a flap a few years ago, as there was concern that it would cause the FEC to crack down on political blogging as a form of indirect campaign contributions. The FEC backed away from that position anyway, but the problem is covered on my main blog under the label “campaign finance reform and bloggers controversy” (see my Profile).

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN later said that the ruling effectively let corporations spend as much money as they want to influence elections or "buy them." Is this about publishing and distributing speech (my pet issue) or about purchasing it (which I see as intellectually tacky)?

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