Campaign finance ruling panned, praised

Today’s Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and labor unions to spend directly from their general treasuries on campaign ads is generating praise from some and warnings from others.

Common Cause Minnesota was among the campaign finance watchdogs that blasted the ruling. Here’s the group’s news release:

The U.S. Supreme Court today released its decision in the case Citizens United v. FEC, striking down a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that could significantly expand the role of corporate money in elections. In doing so, the Court rejected more than 100 years of established law.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court makes a bad situation worse,” said Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota. “Expanded corporate political spending will fuel a campaign fundraising arms race among members of Congress and candidates who already spend too much time fundraising.”

In its decision, the Supreme Court explicitly overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a landmark case in election law that upheld prohibitions on independent expenditures from a corporation?s general treasury fund. When it comes to independent expenditures, the Court held that there is no difference under the law between an individual citizen and a multinational corporation (or any other corporation) when it comes to independent expenditures.

Additionally, the Court held that corporate independent expenditures and any appearance of corruption or undue influence “will not cause the electorate to lose faith in democracy.”

“The fact is that special interest money is already corrupting elected officials and causing the public to lose faith in our democratic institutions,” said Dean.

Justice Stevens, reading his dissenting opinion, said it best, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

Common Cause will begin conversations with state lawmakers to identify ways to mitigate the impact of this disturbing decision.

But others are praising the change as a victory for free speech. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce released this statement:

A landmark 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 21 has seemingly overturned decades of campaign finance law.

“Like everyone else, we are just beginning to study the court’s ruling, and we don’t yet fully understand what the implications are for Minnesota,” said Mike Franklin, elections policy director for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

“However, if the initial news reports are accurate and the opinion confirms that corporate speech is protected by the First Amendment, this is a very welcome opinion.” Franklin said. “Minnesota businesses are regulated by legislation and affected by legislators’ decisions; to forbid businesses from participating in the discussion has always been unfair.”

The opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, states in part that “The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

This ruling appears to level the playing field among corporations and other associations made up of individuals, like labor unions, Franklin noted. The Minnesota Chamber has long had a policy on easing Minnesota’s so-called “corporate ban.”

“One of the frustrations we’ve had with Minnesota’s corporate ban is the vast amount of ‘gray area’ it creates,” he said. “Businesses and business associations like chambers of commerce are forced into second-guessing every statement they make for fear that it might be construed as ‘political.’

“Hopefully, all parties can now participate in the discussion of what Minnesota’s priorities should be in the context of elections without fear of reprisal.”

The Minnesota Chamber is the state’s largest business advocacy organization, representing more than 2,400 businesses of all types and sizes on state public policy and regulatory issues.

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