Change meets its match

A funny thing happened to the concept of ‘reform’ in Washington. Health care is headed for the status quo, and now so is the idea of campaign reform.

In the most awaited decision in this term, the Supreme Court ruled this morning that corporations (and unions) may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. Here’s the full opinion. Warning: It’s 183 pages long.

No surprise here. The court’s decision came on a 5-to-4 vote.

But the court did uphold a few provisions of the campaign contribution law. If a corporation spends more than $10,000 a year for a campaign ad, the names and addresses of anyone contributed $1,000 must be revealed.

And the court upheld that provision that requires non-candidate organizations to identify that they are the ones who paid for the ad.

This case stems from an organization called “Citizens United,” which produced a “movie” called “Hillary: The movie.” But opponents claimed it amounted to a campaign advertisement, and was subject to the expenditure limits. A campaign ad by any other name is still a campaign ad.

The court said “First Amendment standards, however, ‘must give the benefit of any doubt to protecting rather than stifling speech.’

“The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion.

The more liberal wing of the court, headed by Justice John Paul Stevens said, in effect, “nonsense.”


Neither Citizens United’s nor any other corporation’s speech has been “banned.” All that the parties dispute is whether Citizens United had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment dictates an affirmative answer to that question is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided. Even more misguided is the notion that the Court must rewrite the law relating to campaign expenditures by for-profit corporations and unions to decide this case.

If that sounds like someone criticizing “activist judges,” it is.

  • Tyler

    Corporations should not be given the same rights as individuals.

    I’m moving to Norway.

  • Brian F

    I would seriously like to know what characteristics the Court uses to define “person”. Here’s one suggestion: A person is something that can be punched in the face. Can I punch a corporation in the face? No. Therefore, it is not a person. (If I sound angry, it’s because I am.)

    But seriously, Norway might be the best option at this point.

    As for “change”: As much as I hoped Obama could shake things up, I knew deep down that it wouldn’t happen. No matter what a candidate says, and no matter how charismatic he/she/it (face it, a corporation could run for office at this point) is, American politics will never change.

  • Bonnie

    I’m going to New Orleans and try to forget all about this week in politics. See you there Bob.

  • Bobbydole

    hahah activist judges..

  • david z

    Yet another in a series of decisions that stem from the concept of a corporation as a person. The notion that our current government is of,by and for the people only really seems to apply to the “people” that have the most money, and therefore the most influence.

    When corporations are people, real people get the shaft.

  • teej

    Echoing Tyler’s sentiment, corporations are neither people nor citizens, and money does not equal speech. This is sad, and just another step towards institutionalizing political power in corporations over people.

  • Jim!!!

    We people can boycot corps who contribute to campaigns we don’t support. Assuming the contributions are public information.

  • Al Heebsh

    We’ll get the best deomcracy money can buy. Probably the best justice money can buy to, assuming this also applies to judicial races.

  • http://www.ambulancedriver.net Duke Powell

    This is a wonderful decision.

    Corporations are associations comprised of stockholders just like unions are associations comprised of members. Under the old law corps were handcuffed and unions were free to do as they wanted.

    Secondly, the left seems to think the electorate is stupid and can’t be trusted to understand vigorous debate in a free society.

    Free speech means nothing if it isn’t applicable to political debate. This is a ruling for freedom.

  • Alison

    \\Secondly, the left seems to think the electorate is stupid and can’t be trusted to understand vigorous debate in a free society.

    There’s plenty of evidence to support this. Further, if piles of money weren’t proven to be useful in swaying elections they wouldn’t be used.

  • Bob Collins

    I believe both John Kerry and Barack Obama blew off campaign spending limits by refusing public financing.

    When Bill Luther was in Washington, they called him “Dollar Bill” because of the amount of time he spent getting campaign cash.

    Several commentators on NPR today referred to turning on the spigot. The spigot has been on for years.

    Look, I get the possibility that politicians without courage run for the shadows under the threat that big business will target them.

    One way that can be prevented is if political reporters stop with the horserace coverage (who really cares how much a gubernatorial candidate raised compared to someone else? ) and worrying about whether someone has been treated for depression, and starts recognizing the cure for all of the ills I heard described with the telling of this story today — an educated voting public.

    That can only be done by reporting on the issues and how the pols are reacting to them, and stop wasting time documenting what stupid thing some congresswoman or ex-governor said today.

  • JohnnyZoom

    With all due respect to Justice Stevens, whenever one hears someone complaning about activist judges, it usually is a greater reflection on the complainer than the judges.

    Activist judgments come in all shapes and sizes. The problem is, when one particular activist judgment comes down, its critics don’t.

  • Chris

    Well, clearly this decision was an “activist” decision by any definition. They overturned laws passed by elected legislators, including one that they had upheld just six years ago, which is usually how the term is defined.

    In fact, not just the decision, but the process was “activist” in the sense that the majority used the case supposedly at issue (some documentary about Hillary Clinton) to overturn laws that weren’t even part of the brief. They did this last year in Gross v FBL Financial Services.

    Yeah, I agree that the way “activist” is used in political discourse basically just means “any ruling I don’t like,” but that doesn’t mean there also aren’t objective criteria you can use to see if something actually meets the description. If this decision isn’t activist, nothing is.