Federal law currently prohibits the spending of corporate money in Federal elections. Many states also prohibit the spending of corporate money in state elections. But this could all change soon as the US Supreme Court is considering overturning the ban on corporate money in elections put in place over 100 years ago by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Two judicial decisions, one in 1990 and the other in 2003, that supported the ban on corporate money are being reviewed and are in danger of being overturned by the current conservative majority of the court. In 1990 the US Supreme Court upheld a state law on banning corporate donations. Justices Kennedy and Scalia dissented on that case.
The second case was a 5 to 4 decision in 2003 which upheld the McCain-Feingold ban on union and corporate broadcast ads the month prior to an election. In that case Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy were opposed. Since then Justice Alito replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Chief Justice John Roberts was appointed. The appointment of Justice Sotomayer for Souter did not result in a vote change since she is likely to vote the same as Souter did.
The case before the Court Initially involved the banning of “Hilliary: the Movie” by the Federal Elections Commission as electioneering under McCain – Feingold. The conservative Justices have succeeded in scheduling a special Court session on Sept 9, 2009 to hear arguments on overturning the corporate ban on money in elections.
The issue is one that pits “free speech” versus the influence of corporate money in elections. In an article in today’s Seattle Times entitled “Corporate election spending up for review” they note that:
With the corporate-spending limits at risk of reversal, advocates of campaign-funding laws are sounding the alarm. Striking down corporate spending limits would be “a radical step” that would change the character of elections, said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21.
“Banks like Citicorp, investment firms like Merrill Lynch and insurance companies like AIG would be free to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of their corporate wealth to directly support the election of federal officeholders who do their legislative bidding and to directly oppose [those] who refused to carry out their wishes,” Wertheimer said.
“This could take us back to the era when people referred to the senator from Standard Oil,” agreed Washington, D.C., lawyer Trevor Potter, who last year advised Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. “If you have hundreds of millions of corporate dollars flowing into these races, it could drown out the speech of ordinary voters
The New York Times article today is entitled “Justices to Revisit ‘Hillary Film, and Corporate Cash in Politics” also has an in depth discussion of the issues involved. The add an additional quote by Fred Wertheimer saying that , “We’re not dealing with campaign finance laws. We’re dealing with the essence of power in America.”
So much for the Republican conservative hypocrisy on saying they oppose activist judges. Seems the conservative contingent on the Supreme Court is ready to overturn 100 years of judicial law.
Two thoughts emerge. One is why should corporations even be considered to be accorded free speech protections under the Constitution? A corporation is not an entity in the US Constitution but people are..
The second is how anyone can consider money spent by corporations as equivalent to free speech. Multimillion dollar expenditures by corporations can easily drown out the free speech rights and voices of average citizens. There is no limit on corporations speaking out and holding press conferences and issuing press releases. The issue is one of whether corporate financial money should give their view and position on candidates an unfair advantage becasue they can buy paid media and lots of it.
Maybe this is all one more reason pushing the county toward public financing of campaigns so that candidates can compete on an equal basis on their ideas, not on the basis of whether they have corporate friends willing to support them.