Supreme Court Strikes Down Campaign Finance Laws

This morning, so-called campaign finance “reform” was dealt a staggering blow when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC, overturning a 20-year-old precedent upholding bans on independent political speech by incorporated entities, including businesses, unions, and advocacy groups. A key portion of McCain-Feingold was also struck down.

In practical terms, the decision simply means that incorporated entities such as General Electric, the United Auto Workers, the National Rifle Association, and the American Society of Travel Agents can now run ads from their general treasury funds that urge people to vote for or against a specific candidate.

Needless to say, the decision is causing a great deal of concern among those terrified that Americans might hear political speech from sources they’d prefer be silenced. For example, in anticipation of the decision Florida Congressman Alan Grayson has introduced bills that would impose a 500% excise tax on independent political spending by corporations and would ban stock exchanges from trading shares of companies that engage in political spending.

The case in question was originally about whether a nonprofit group, Citizens United, could air ads promoting a movie they had produced that was critical of then-candidate for president Hillary Clinton, and whether they could offer it through video-on-demand.

Given the clear words of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law…”), this shouldn’t have been a problem. Criticizing candidates for office should presumably be fully protected speech.

Unfortunately, our nation’s complex web of campaign finance laws strictly regulate who may speak, what they may say, and where they can and cannot get their funding from to promote and disseminate their speech. Citizens United fell afoul of these laws, and were told by the government that because they were incorporated, and because they accepted some funds from for-profit corporations, they could not air their ads or show their movie.