Corporations to Finally Get Some Influence in Politics

McCain, Feingold: Not happy people today. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Today, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 vote along ideological lines, struck down two precedents and portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law in ruling that political spending by corporations on elections can't be infringed upon. The case originated in a lawsuit over a 90-minute anti–Hillary Clinton documentary called Hillary: The Movie that the conservative group Citizens United was blocked from airing by the Federal Election Commission in 2008. But in a decision that was far from narrow, the majority declared that freedom of speech, even that of corporations and unions, could not be impeded by the government. Is it a good thing that the Supreme Court has protected the right of free speech, or bad that it has opened up the political process to more corporate influence? People have opinions.

• Chris Cillizza says the ruling "will allow corporations as well as labor unions to spend freely on television ads — and other forms of direct advocacy — for or against a candidate's election. The Court also overturned a prohibition on corporations and labor unions running so-called "issue" ads — commercials that do not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate — in the final weeks of a campaign." [Fix/WP]

• Chris Good explains what has changed: "This basically eliminates a middleman: before today, corporations and unions had to set up PACs (political action committees), filed separately with the IRS, that would receive donations. And they did. Corporations and unions spend millions of dollars on elections. Now, however, the accounting firewall is gone, and Wal-Mart or the Service Employees International Union, for instance, can spend their corporate money directly on candidates." [Atlantic]

• George Will says that the "gratifyingly radical decision" has "substantially pushed back the encroachments that the political class has made on the sphere of free political speech." [Post Partisan/WP]

• Jeff Zeleny believes the "Supreme Court has likely just delivered one more" advantage to Republicans going into the midterms. [Caucus/NYT]

• Kenneth P. Vogel expects the decision "to boost Republicans more than Democrats, because corporations and corporate-backed outside groups tend to align with conservatives and also often have access to more money than unions or liberal outside groups." [Politico]

• Matt Welch calls it "a major victory for the First Amendment and political speech." [Hit & Run/Reason]

• Jennifer Rubin thinks it's "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." [Contentions/Commentary]

• Ed Morrissey claims that the "ruling will just allow the money to be seen for what it is, rather than hiding behind PR-spin PAC names and shadowy contribution trails. The best campaign finance reform is still transparency." [Hot Air]

• Tom Goldstein calls the decision "a small revolution in campaign finance law." [SCOTUSblog]

• Ilya Shpairo posits that "to make campaign spending equal, the government would have to prevent some people or groups from spending less than they wished. That is directly contrary to protecting speech from government restraint, which is ultimately the heart of American conceptions about the freedom of speech." [Cato]

• E.J. Dionne believes it's "a reckless and dangerous piece of judicial activism. It will create havoc in our political system and greatly undermine the legitimacy of the Court that Chief Justice John Roberts leads." Responding to supporters of free speech, Dionne claims that "[c]orporations are not individuals, as Congress recognized when it first limited the role of corporate money in politics back in 1907. Corporations are created by law, and they should not be treated the same as we treat live human beings." [Post Partisan/WP]

• Scott Lemieux says that the majority's argument — "that the First Amendment does not permit distinctions based on the identity of the speaker — is superficially attractive," but he's not buying "that any of the justices believe it." [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Steve Hoersting says "there is little doubt that the Citizens United ruling will free up many more resources for politics in coming election cycles. We can expect existing unions to turn on the spigots even more openly, and for new entities to crop up to accept corporate money." [Bench Memos/National Review]

• Heather Gerken says that "the real significance of the case lies in what the Court said Congress can do going forward. The Court severely limited both the arguments and the types of evidence Congress can invoke when it regulates in the future." [Balkinization]

• Sara Jerome wonders if corporate money will really begin to flow into elections, or whether the disincentives for doing so will limit the effect of the ruling. [Under the Influence/National Journal]

• Nick Nyhart thinks the decision "will force candidates for Congress to spend even more time dialing for dollars and attending gala fundraisers instead of focusing on the challenges facing our country." [HuffPo]