Feature

High court lifts campaign curbs

A bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same constitutional right as individuals to fund federal campaigns.

Sweeping aside a century of precedent, a bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled last week that corporations and unions have the same constitutional right as individuals to fund federal campaigns, as long as they do so independently of candidates’ own campaign organizations. The 5–4 ruling came in a case brought by a conservative group that wanted to use corporate funds to air a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign. Analysts said the ruling was likely to diminish the clout of political parties, which remain subject to strict limits, and increase spending by issue-advocacy groups.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the damage that the court’s “narrow right-wing majority” has inflicted to our electoral system, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. By wiping out hard-fought campaign-finance reforms enacted by the people’s representatives in Congress, the court has tilted the system “decisively in favor of corporate interests.” Any corporation is now free to practice blackmail, by threatening to spend massively to defeat candidates who don’t support its political agenda. Remember all that talk about “fundamental change” in Washington? asked Mark McKinnon in TheDailyBeast.com. Well, it “just hit the immovable object: big money.” 

Such “unhinged reactions” only serve to remind us how far out of favor free speech has fallen, said Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe. But the Supreme Court has delivered a rare “triumph for the First Amendment.” The decision “demolished the caste system” that allowed some groups of citizens “to engage in vigorous and unfettered political speech” while barring others from doing the same. Corporations and unions now can speak out freely, thus enriching “the marketplace of ideas.”

Fears that corporate money will overwhelm elections are overblown, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. Most businesses “are not about to plunge into divisive elections for fear of antagonizing customers.” And give voters some credit. If they “distrust corporate power,” they’re “free to reject” corporate political messages.

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