Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision freeing up corporate and union spending on elections portends sweeping changes to our already circus-like political campaigns. Is it a victory for free speech and cherished American-style liberty or a victory for the corrupting power of cash? It’s both.
The ruling overturned key provisions of 2002’s McCain-Feingold campaign finance act. John McCain’s response to the ruling was terse:
I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions. However, it appears that key aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), including the ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.
David Bossie, president of Citizens United, an organization dedicated to “restoring the government to citizen control,” as he puts it, was effusive:
There can be honest disagreements about the role of money in politics. But I would hope that, whether Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, we can all agree that any attempt by the government to silence a citizen should be met with a stern rebuke. This is not an issue that is easily categorized as “conservative” or “liberal.” In our case, the ACLU joined with the NRA, and the AFL-CIO joined with the Chamber of Commerce in support of Citizens United and the First Amendment. We were fighting as much for the rights of filmmakers like Michael Moore as we were for our own right to produce, advertise and distribute films.
The New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick spelled out potential practical effects:
The Supreme Court has handed lobbyists a new weapon. A lobbyist can now tell any elected official: if you vote wrong, my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.
“We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you — whichever one you want,’ ” a lobbyist can tell lawmakers, said Lawrence M. Noble, a lawyer at Skadden Arps in Washington and former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission.
The Wall Street Journal managed to highlight the odd way Americans have come to speak about rights in relation to corporations. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, the Journal notes, has long been a brave champion of these “constituents”:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has long fought campaign-finance regulations, hailed the court for a “monumental decision” toward “restoring the First Amendment rights of [corporations and unions] by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day.”
The Journal also highlighted questions surrounding state’s rights in the matter, including the power of state constitutional laws:
The ruling not only strikes down the federal requirement, it also calls into question similar provisions enacted by nearly half the states. “States like Montana, whose people adopted a corporate electioneering law by initiative in 1912, have distinct and compelling histories of corporate domination in the political process that the court did not address,” said Montana State Solicitor Anthony Johnstone, who filed a brief on behalf of 26 states seeking to affirm the precedents.
In Colorado, conservative state senator Greg Brophy, R-Wray, expressed his opinion as always via tweet: