Supreme Court Ruling on Campaign Contributions - A series of articles

 

 

US Supreme Court Ruling Reverses Iowa Campaign Law

 

Regulator says US Supreme Court ruling overturns Iowa campaign finance law, urges action

Mike Glover

January 21, 2010  

The Associated Press
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=9627211

 

A U.S. Supreme Court decision opening the door for businesses and unions to spend money influencing elections effectively overturns a state law banning such spending, and lawmakers should respond, the state's top ethics regulator said Thursday.

 

"I want to bring it to their attention and we need to decide if they want to act on it," said Charles Smithson, head of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

 

He sent an e-mail to legislative leaders warning them of fallout from the decision.

 

The high court Thursday overturned a federal law banning both businesses and labor unions from spending on such efforts as buying time for television ads supporting a candidate. It left in place a ban on them giving money directly to candidates.

 

Iowa law has prohibited businesses and unions from giving money to candidates and from using their money to influence an election. The Supreme Court ruling effectively strikes down that ban, Smithson said.

 

"This is very confusing to legislative leaders and the public," he said.

 

Legislative leaders labeled the ruling "outrageous" and vowed to act, though it was far from clear what they could do.

 

"It's absolutely outrageous and we've got to find a way to deal with it," said Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. "I am on the side of ordinary working families when it comes to political campaigns. We are going to do our very best to deal with this issue."

 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, said he spoke with Attorney General Tom Miller about the issue, and said key leaders are considering their options.

 

"We're going to do everything in our power to try and prevent this corporate decision from influencing our politics," said McCarthy. "If there are any options we have we will move extremely quickly to pass legislation."

 

One option to be explored is an existing law that bans registered lobbyists from making campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session.

 

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The Supreme Court Just Handed Anyone, Including bin Laden or the Chinese Govt., Control of Our Democracy

 

By Greg Palast, AlterNet
                   
January 23, 2010

http://www.alternet.org/story/145354/

 

 

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations should be treated the same as "natural persons", i.e. humans. Well, in that case, expect the Supreme Court to next rule that Wal-Mart can run for President.

 

The ruling, which junks federal laws that now bar corporations from stuffing campaign coffers, will not, as progressives fear, cause an avalanche of corporate cash into politics. Sadly, that's already happened: we have been snowed under by tens of millions of dollars given through corporate PACs and "bundling" of individual contributions from corporate pay-rollers.

 

The Court's decision is far, far more dangerous to U.S. democracy. Think: Manchurian candidates.

 

I'm losing sleep over the millions — or billions — of dollars that could flood into our elections from ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil Corporation’s U.S. unit; or from the maker of "New Order" fashions, the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Or from Bin Laden Construction corporation. Or Bin Laden Destruction Corporation.

 

Right now, corporations can give loads of loot through PACs. While this money stinks (Barack Obama took none of it), anyone can go through a PAC's federal disclosure filing and see the name of every individual who put money into it. And every contributor must be a citizen of the USA.

 

But under  today's Supreme Court ruling that corporations can support candidates without limit, there is nothing that stops, say, a Delaware-incorporated handmaiden of the Burmese junta from picking a Congressman or two with a cache of loot masked by a corporate alias.

 

Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.

 

Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. Under the Court's new rules, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new "citizens" such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats. As would XYZ Corporation, whose owners remain hidden by "street names."

 

George Bush's former Solicitor General Ted Olson argued the case to the court on behalf of Citizens United, a corporate front that funded an attack on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary. Olson's wife died on September 11, 2001 on the hijacked airliner that hit the Pentagon. Maybe it was a bit crude of me, but I contacted Olson's office to ask how much "Al Qaeda, Inc." should be allowed to donate to support the election of his local congressman.

 

Olson has not responded.

 

The danger of foreign loot loading into U.S. campaigns, not much noted in the media chat about the Citizens case, was the first concern raised by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who asked about opening the door to "mega-corporations" owned by foreign governments. Olson offered Ginsburg a fudge, that Congress might be able to prohibit foreign corporations from making donations, though Olson made clear he thought any such restriction a bad idea.

 

Tara Malloy, attorney with the Campaign Legal Center of Washington D.C. says corporations will now have more rights than people. Only United States citizens may donate or influence campaigns, but a foreign government can, veiled behind a corporate treasury, dump money into ballot battles.

 

Malloy also noted that under the law today, human-people, as opposed to corporate-people, may only give $2,300 to a presidential campaign. But hedge fund billionaires, for example, who typically operate through dozens of corporate vessels, may now give unlimited sums through each of these "unnatural" creatures.

 

And once the Taliban incorporates in Delaware, they could ante up for the best democracy money can buy.

 

In July, the Chinese government, in preparation for President Obama's visit, held diplomatic discussions in which they skirted issues of human rights and Tibet. Notably, the Chinese, who hold a $2 trillion mortgage on our Treasury, raised concerns about the cost of Obama's health care reform bill. Would our nervous Chinese landlords have an interest in buying the White House for an opponent of government spending such as Gov. Palin? Ya betcha!

 

The potential for foreign infiltration of what remains of our democracy is an adjunct of the fact that the source and control money from corporate treasuries (unlike registered PACs), is necessarily hidden. Who the heck are the real stockholders? Or as Butch asked Sundance, "Who are these guys?"


We'll never know.

 

Hidden money funding, whether foreign or domestic, is the new venom that the Court has injected into the system by its expansive decision in Citizens United.

 

We've been there. The 1994 election brought Newt Gingrich to power in a GOP takeover of the Congress funded by a very strange source.

 

Congressional investigators found that in crucial swing races, Democrats had fallen victim to a flood of last-minute attack ads funded by a group called, "Coalition for Our Children's Future." The $25 million that paid for those ads came, not from concerned parents, but from a corporation called "Triad Inc."

 

Evidence suggests Triad Inc. was the front for the ultra-right-wing billionaire Koch Brothers and their private petroleum company, Koch Industries. Had the corporate connection been proven, the Kochs and their corporation could have faced indictment under federal election law. As of today, such money-poisoned politicking has become legit.

 

So it's not just un-Americans we need to fear but the Polluter-Americans, Pharma-mericans, Bank-Americans and Hedge-Americans that could manipulate campaigns while hidden behind corporate veils. And if so, our future elections, while nominally a contest between Republicans and Democrats, may in fact come down to a three-way battle between China, Saudi Arabia and Goldman Sachs.

 

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Palast investigated Triad Inc. for The Guardian (UK). View Palast's reports for BBC TV and Democracy Now! at www.gregpalast.com.

 

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Reformers: Court ruling on campaign finance is a setback for reform

 

BY ROBERT SWIFT (HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF)

 

January 23, 2010

 

http://thedailyreview.com/news/reformers-court-ruling-on-campaign-finance-is-a-setback-for-reform-1.565526

 

 

HARRISBURG - A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturns federal limits on corporate campaign spending is viewed by reformers as a setback to efforts to strengthen Pennsylvania's weak campaign spending law.

 

In a split 5-4 decision, the nation's highest court Thursday knocked down restrictions on spending by corporations to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress.

 

The Supreme Court ruling is viewed by many analysts as increasing the ability of businesses, labor unions and their lobbies to influence the outcome of elections with unlimited ad money.

 

"I think the potential is there to significantly alter the impact that corporations can have on the political process," said Dr. Terry Madonna, pollster at Franklin and Marshall College, on Friday. "The question is, would they use it?"

 

While the ruling applies to federal elections, its impact on state campaign spending laws and proposed reforms is being examined as well.

 

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that do not limit the size of non-cash contributions a candidate for state or local office can receive from an individual or political action committee. One of the few restrictions in place is a ban on cash contributions exceeding $100 from any individual, but no such limit exists for checks.

 

A state lawmaker thinks the court ruling will make an uphill fight to toughen state campaign spending laws even more difficult.

 

"It is not helpful at all for those of us who want to strengthen the public voice and limit special interests," said Rep. David Levdansky, D-39, Elizabeth, a long-time sponsor of legislation to put limits on state campaign contributions.

 

Pennsylvania needs to put reasonable limits on the size of political contributions made by wealthy individuals and special interests, he said.

 

Campaign finance bills have been introduced with little success in the General Assembly since the post-Watergate era.

 

Pennsylvania law bans direct campaign contributions from corporations, but allows for political action committees representing broader industry interests. Corporate officers make donations to a PAC, which in turn decides which candidates it wants to support with contributions.

 

A statewide organization calling for an end to judicial elections in Pennsylvania thinks the court ruling imperils the ban on direct corporation donations in state law.

 

The Supreme Court ruling will allow corporations to spend money directly from their coffers on elections without the need to establish a separate PAC, said Shira Goodman, deputy director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which favors merit selection of state judges. Her group has criticized the spending of millions of dollars in last year's election for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

 

"It's like the (U.S.) Supreme Court said `Let the money in," Goodman said.

 

The court ruling opens the door for business interests to seek influence at the ballot box on issues like a proposed state severance tax on natural gas production, said Dr. Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College, Allentown. Energy interests have long been major political contributors, he said.

 

A study of PAC spending in 2007-08 by the Pennsylvania Business Council found that labor unions outspent business interests and political parties on state and local elections. The study examined $126 million in contributions made by more than 1,200 PACs. Elections for legislative seats, statewide row offices and Philadelphia mayor were held during this period.

 

Top-ranked PACs were Local Union No. 98, IBEW, Philadelphia, $6.8 million; Laborers District Council, Philadelphia, $3.6 million; teacher-oriented Pennsylvania State Education Association, $2.1 million; Republican party-affiliated Pennsylvania Future Fund, $2 million; and LAWPAC, the trial lawyers PAC, $1.8 million, according to the PEG study.

 

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Lone vote vs. campaign-ad disclosure: Thomas

By David L. Hudson Jr.


First Amendment scholar

 

01.23.10

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/commentary.aspx?id=22532

Although the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Citizens United v. FEC Jan. 21 to invalidate federal regulations limiting corporate spending in federal campaigns, eight justices did uphold disclaimer and disclosure requirements under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

The lone voice of dissent in that part of the ruling was none other than Justice Clarence Thomas — who long has been the Court's most strident opponent, on First Amendment grounds, of campaign-finance laws. To Clarence Thomas, restrictions on political campaign spending and contributions represent direct infringements on pure political speech.

Under federal law, political TV ads funded by corporations must include a disclaimer displayed in a “clearly reasonable manner.” Those who spend more than a certain amount on such "electioneering communications," as the law calls them, must file disclosure statements with the Federal Election Commission.

In his majority opinion in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasized that disclosures and disclaimers are less onerous and rigorous than “more comprehensive regulations on speech,” including outright bans. Kennedy also rejected the argument that disclosure requirements violate the First Amendment in part because they expose donors to retaliation.

Thomas, on the other hand, took a much different approach. He said the Court’s “constitutional analysis does not go far enough” and that the disclaimer/disclosure requirements violate the First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech. Thomas cited the example of alleged harassment of those who supported Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I cannot endorse a view of the First Amendment that subjects citizens of this Nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or pre-emptive and threatening warning letters as the price for engaging in core political speech, the primary object of First Amendment protection,” Thomas concluded.

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The Supreme Court Protected Us On Thursday

John Lott, Jr.

Fox News

January 22, 2010

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/01/22/john-lott-supreme-court-campaign-finance-mccain-feingold/

The Supreme Court did America a service when it tackled campaign finance this week.

Do you want government regulating what movies can be shown to the public? Do you want the government determining what movies can be advertised? Or what books can be sold? Well, the Obama administration actually argued for these regulations before the Supreme Court in defending campaign finance regulations. Actually, they went even further and said that such regulations were essential to limiting how much money is spent on political campaigns.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed. On Thursday, in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down a law that had been used to stop the advertising or showing of "Hillary: The Movie" during the 2008 presidential campaign. No one doubts that the movie was critical of Hillary Clinton and that its release was timed precisely to hurt her presidential campaign. What the court couldn't abide was letting the government decide when a movie crossed the line and became too political. The ruling eliminates bans that corporations and unions have faced in trying to influence elections 30 days before a primary election or nominating convention, or within 60 days before a general election.

Campaign finance laws aim to restrict how much money can be spent on campaigns, but, just as Justice Antonin Scalia warned in 2003, “expenditures” can take an essentially unlimited number of forms. "If history teaches us anything, [it] is that when you plug one means of expression, the money will go to whatever means of expression are left," Scalia warned during oral arguments when the McCain-Feingold law was first heard before the court in 2003.

Suppose that a company or a union can't take out radio or television ads supporting a candidate. It still has other options: It can produce a critical movie, such as "Hillary: The Movie," or publish a critical book. Authors making the rounds of radio and television shows during their book tours can help provide information that supports one candidate over another.

Indeed, when President Obama's Deputy Solicitor General, Malcolm Stewart, first argued the case "Hillary: The Movie" before the Supreme Court last March, Justice Samuel Alito asked him if the government could prohibit companies from publishing books. Stewart said that was indeed possible. "That's pretty incredible," Alito responded, and then he pointed out that most book publishers are corporations.

"If [the book] has one name, one use of a candidate’s name, it could be covered?” Chief Justice John Roberts then asked. And Stewart replied: “That’s correct.” “It’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, so vote for X. The government could ban that?” Roberts asked. Again, Stewart said yes.

When the case was reargued before the Supreme Court in September, Stewart was replaced by Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Kagan, realizing that the court was shocked by Stewart's statements, said that pamphlets, not books, could be banned. When Chief Justice John Roberts asked her about pamphlets, here's what she said: "A pamphlet would be different. A pamphlet is pretty classic electioneering." But Kagan's answer is hardly comforting. Is the government going to have a word limit that lets bureaucrats decide when something goes from being a "pamphlet" to a book? How long would that last?

Of course, those are not the only ways around corporate bans on political advertising. If you want to limit corporations’ influence on elections, what do you do about companies that own newspapers and television news broadcasts? Why is one company that owns a newspaper able to write editorials or publish "news" stories that help one candidate but another company isn’t even able to buy a political ad in that very same newspaper?

Right now, one television series after another somehow works into its story lines a sad tale highlighting the plight of those without health insurance. And these kinds of plot lines don’t just show up in medical dramas. Even crime shows, such as CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," have gotten into the act. Many would argue that TV dramas provide an inaccurate view of the medicine available to the poor and while other might argue that the shows do a good job, but that isn't the point. The shows are obviously trying to influence public policy. Do we need to assign Federal Election Commission's lawyers to watch hours of television programming just to ensure that no political candidates benefit from the message in these shows?

Campaign finance regulations that limit donations or campaign expenditures also have another downside: they entrench incumbents. It is a lot easier for incumbents, who have had years to determine who their actual and potential donors are, to raise small amounts from a lot of donors. It is also a lot more important for a relatively unknown challenger to spend money on his campaign than it is for the incumbent.

Take the obviously extreme example where campaign expenditures are banned. Clearly, the already well-known incumbent would be virtually assured of winning.

Some states allow corporate and union contributions to candidates. Other states follow what has been the federal law banning those donations. Out of all the different campaign finance laws that have the biggest impact on whether candidates choose to run unopposed are the restrictions on individual and corporate donations to political parties. Regulations governing donations by individuals to political parties and corporate and union to candidates produce the biggest benefit towards protecting incumbents from electoral competition and increasing the probability that they will win re-election. Restricting corporate donations to individual candidates also reduces the number of candidates running for office by the largest amount.

President Obama is already moving to overturn Thursday’s Supreme Court decision. "I am instructing my administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision," President Obama warned after the ruling.

But is this the type of country we want to live in? It is not just health care that the government wants to take over. Now they want to restrict what information we can receive. The very fact that a high-ranking administration official argues for banning certain books right before an election is scary and reminds us of the Chinese Government’s attempt to restrict Google, not of free debate in a free country.

John R. Lott, Jr. is an economist and FoxNews.com contributor. 

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Who is helped, or hurt, by the Citizens United decision?

 

Washington Post

 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/22/AR2010012203874.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

 

The Post asked political and legal experts to explain who is helped, and who is hurt, by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Below are contributions from Cleta Mitchell, Robert Lenhard, Kenneth Gross, Anna Burger, Ben Ginsberg, Ed Rogers, Mark Elias, and Karen Finny.

 

CLETA MITCHELL

 

Partner at Foley & Lardner who works in campaign finance law; filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Citizens United, on behalf of two advocacy organizations opposing the ban on corporate expenditures

The Supreme Court has correctly eliminated a constitutionally flawed system that allowed media corporations (e.g., The Washington Post Co.) to freely disseminate their opinions about candidates using corporate treasury funds, while denying that constitutional privilege to Susie's Flower Shop Inc.

 

New Populist in Chief Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are howling, pledging hearings and legislation to reverse the court's decision. But don't look for Coca-Cola television ads endorsing or opposing candidates. That isn't the way business works, thinks or acts.

 

The real victims of the corporate expenditure ban have been nonprofit advocacy organizations across the political spectrum. After the 2004 election, the Sierra Club paid a $28,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission for distributing pamphlets in Florida contrasting the environmental records of the two presidential and U.S. Senate candidates. Because the Sierra Club is a corporation, the FEC charged it with making an illegal corporate expenditure.

What businesses, large and small, should do is spend time and money educating their employees, vendors and customers about candidates and officeholders whose philosophies and voting records would destroy or permanently damage America's free enterprise system.

 

Why are Democrats afraid of that voice?

 

ROBERT LENHARD

 

Of counsel at Covington and Burling; chairman of the Federal Election Commission, 2007

 

The balance of power in political contests has shifted dramatically away from candidates running for office and toward corporations and unions seeking to advance their policy agendas. Candidates are now far more vulnerable to unexpected negative-ad campaigns, funded by corporations and unions either directly or through nonprofit groups.

 

Campaigns, corporations and unions can all now spend as much as they want on campaign ads. But campaign finance laws dramatically limit how much candidates (though not corporations or unions) can raise and from whom. Generally, candidates may only accept contributions up to $2,400 per election from individuals and up to $5,000 per election from PACs. In contrast, Citizens United allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums attacking or supporting candidates. So picture this: An interest group makes a single phone call to raise $250,000 for attack ads in the waning days of a campaign. The candidate must find more than 100 willing donors, able to give the maximum permissible $2,400 contribution, to answer those ads with an equivalent buy.

 

One solution is for Congress to repeal the limits on how much and from whom candidates can raise money. However, those who see the court's opening of the doors to unlimited corporate spending as a problem are unlikely to see unlimited corporate contributions to candidates as the solution. Rather, Congress should repeal the limits on how much national political parties can spend in coordination with their candidates, which might restore some balance to the system.

 

KENNETH GROSS

 

Leads the political law practice at Skadden Arps; former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission

 

Contrary to popular reports, the sky is not falling. The Citizens United decision will not profoundly affect the for-profit corporate community. Government affairs operations in that community are based on the development of long-term relationships, supported by directly giving through PACs and personal contributions.

 

The rules regulating direct and PAC contributions have not changed one iota. Also, the requirement that political spending under this case be independent of a candidate is antithetical to the overarching mission of how a government affairs operation works. So, the "club" that the Supreme Court has given corporate America is an unwieldy one.

 

No doubt, trade associations will look for ways to raise funds to attract or support candidates, but they will not find many deep, willing pockets among corporate members. Budgets are tight and shareholders will be keeping an eye on corporate spending. Also, many corporations have already signed on to transparency agreements regarding political spending. So, funding by publicly held corporations of groups trying to disguise their mission will be few and far between. This may not be the popular, prevailing view of the implications of the Citizens case -- but it is likely to be at least the short-term reality.

 

ANNA BURGER

 

Secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union

 

There can be no doubt: The voice of everyday working Americans in the political process will be muted. How can they compete for airtime with the deep pockets of multinational corporations? The court's decision has said loud and clear that Mr. Smith has no business in Washington -- that seat's been sponsored by Wal-Mart.

 

The five-justice majority might think that the interests of corporations outweigh women and men who work, but our 2.2 million members are not going to sit idly by and watch working people get sidelined. Unions like ours are here to give a voice to working people. We do it through our nurses', janitors' and security officers' voluntary contributions. Repeat: voluntary. You're talking about people who make $12 an hour choosing to give part of their paycheck to give voice to their political concerns. There is no comparison between that worker and a corporation that will funnel their shareholders' money straight to a campaign's coffers.

 

We'll start working immediately for better transparency, better disclosure rules and making sure shareholders have a say in how corporations spend their money. For labor, being able to spend a few extra dollars is not worth walking away from our core democratic principles.

 

BEN GINSBERG

 

Partner at Patton Boggs; national counsel to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign, 2000 and 2004

 

The voices of candidates and political parties just got much quieter. While robust First Amendment debate is the big winner from Citizens United, the current limits on contributions to candidates and parties create an imbalance that must be fixed.

 

The 35-year effort to limit contributions to candidates and parties has now resulted in a system about to be utterly dominated by special interests ranging from corporations to unions to ideological nonprofits. The solution that would allow candidates to control their own messages and agenda, in light of the court's bright constitutional ruling, is to increase the amount of money available to candidates.

 

Radical thinking, but necessary to get the system back in balance. So that candidates can spend their time campaigning and talking policy instead of fundraising, let the parties raise much more money to fund the campaigns. Put limits on how much candidates can raise directly for parties, but resurrect the parties so that corporations and unions and wealthy individuals don't define candidates. We have to recognize the imbalance now created while recognizing the court's clear message that more speech is good.

 

ED ROGERS

 

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

 

With the Supreme Court ruling that clears the way for uninhibited corporate and union spending on federal campaign advertising, maybe next our rulers will get around to doing the right thing.

 

Previous court rulings have made it possible for billionaires and anonymous gangs (also known as 527s) to spend all they want. But political parties and the campaigns themselves are limited in how they can collect and spend their money.

This is dangerous. The two-party system has served us well. We should seek to strengthen it; instead, we do the opposite. For an elected official to be committed to a party of principles is very different than being beholden to an outside group that has narrow commercial or selfish interests.

 

Our elections are beginning to look like rag-tag variety shows where anyone can put his act on the stage. The candidate may or may not be the director of this spectacle -- or have the spotlight. How does this serve the public good?

As long as we limit the party's donors and restrict how campaigns can raise and spend their money, we dilute an important connection between the governed and government. We should remove the limits and disclose everything. That way everyone gets a fair shot.

 

MARK ELIAS

 

Partner at Perkins Coie; represents the Democratic National Committee; general counsel to the Kerry-Edwards 2004 presidential campaign

 

Nearly every Supreme Court decision involving campaign finance is described as important, but few ultimately change politics. The court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission will almost certainly be among the handful that fundamentally alter elections. In overturning its prior precedent (both old and new), the court ruled that corporations enjoy the same rights to independent speech in elections as individuals.

 

While few individuals exercise their right to fund multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns, we should expect that corporations will eagerly do so. Given corporate wealth and the legislative stakes, in many elections corporations will dominate paid campaign communications -- leaving candidates and political parties as secondary actors.

 

So, what is next? First, the FEC is in the midst of a rulemaking on how much "coordination" is permissible before an expenditure is no longer "independent." This is important because the court's decision hinged on the fact that corporate expenditures are only legal if they are independent of any candidate or party. The independence vs. coordination distinction is the only remaining hurdle to corporate-funded ads. Second, Congress will no doubt review this new landscape and consider legislative alternatives. Hopefully the FEC and Congress can restore the prior balance in the system.

 

KAREN FINNEY

 

Democratic consultant and commentator; former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee

 

At the very moment Americans' mistrust of big corporations, big government and large institutions has reached a fever pitch, the Supreme Court moved to replace a government of, for and by the people with a government that can be bought and paid for by just about any major corporation -- from Exxon to Russian-owned Lukoil to China's CPC Corp.

 

In a decision that supposedly ruled on the side of free speech, the court actually put a price tag on that speech. A price tag that could result in the voices of individual Americans being priced out of their ability to actually be heard, as millions of dollars from multinational corporations can now be spent to tip the scales in an American election.

 

Did the court really intend to suggest that a corporation, including one that is not American-owned, has the same right to free speech as an American citizen? As Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out in his dissent, the decision "would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans." Considering how simultaneously dangerous and ridiculous the "death panel" discussion proved to be, imagine what debates over immigration, trade or energy policy will be like as foreign companies can now funnel money in support of their very own Manchurian candidate.

 

Is this really "a step in the right direction," or "a blow for the First Amendment" as House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cheered?

 

It's hard to believe that this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind.