It was an easy hook but it garbled Jessica Fender’s Denver Post story. Fender was reporting the fact that the Colorado Supreme Court found Amendment 54 unconstitutional, striking down in Dallman v Ritter the restrictions on campaign donations put in place by the amendment at the beginning of last year. But Fender too breezily tied the story to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Citizens United, which lifted restrictions on corporate political advertising. The Colorado ruling was “another blow to restrictions on political giving by business and labor interests,” Fender wrote in the lead sentence.
But no. It’s not the same thing at all. It’s the opposite. It’s the differences between these cases that define them.
In Citizens United, the nation’s top court lifted restrictions on corporate spending on advertising– restrictions that had long been in place. In Dallman, Colorado’s top court refused to allow to stand new restrictions on direct campaign donations.
Citizens United was taken on by an activist conservative Supreme Court intent on broadening the right to political expression for corporations. Dallman was the result of conservative special interests in Colorado pushing to limit the political speech of labor unions and union members, among others.
The first case is about campaign advertising and censorship. The second is about campaign donations and pay-to-play corruption.
Corporations have been banned for years from advertising in the weeks before elections, partly because corporations are not technically voting citizens of the country and partly because they have the kind of resources that few citizens can marshal to equally persuade voters– and that is to say nothing of the financial gain corporations can reap by steering elections. The public good is not part of the equation for corporations, which is to say nothing against them but rather only to acknowledge that corporations exist simply to generate profits. The Supreme Court in Citizens United saw this ban on corporations as censorship and so saw it as unconstitutional.
Labor unions and their members in Colorado and elsewhere and all kinds of other government contractors and their family members have always enjoyed the right to support candidates for office through campaign donations. Amendment 54 sought to take away that right. The Colorado court threw out Amendment 54 as infringing on existing rights and struck it from the Constitution for likely being politically motivated and overreaching.
Citizens United may have been a “blow” to restrictions on political advertising. The Colorado Dallman ruling, however, was no “blow to restrictions on political giving.” On the contrary, it secured rights that have always been in place. In other words, Dallman restored rights temporarily assailed through the state’s infamously loose politically charged ballot initiative process.
Mixing the two rulings in a top-of-the-story hook amounts to some kind of artistic collage work that reveals mostly by what it conceals. Did the Post readers know what they were getting into with that story?