Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court strikes down McCain-Feingold campaign spending limits

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down limits on corporate political spending, key provisions of the McCain-Feingold law and similar provisions enacted by nearly half the states.  From the Wall Street Journal:
The ruling underscored the impact of former President George W. Bush's two appointments to the court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito joined the five-justice majority in ruling that a central provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act violated the First Amendment by restricting corporations from funding political messages in the run-up to elections.

"The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in a 57-page opinion.
The McCain-Feingold law aimed to rein in independent campaign spending by corporations and unions—that is, advertisements that the corporations or unions buy on their own to advocate for or against a candidate.

McCain-Feingold required that they channel their campaign spending by creating a special fund, known as a political action committee, which can accept donations from employees, shareholders and other affiliates. Advocates argued that the law was a valid way to prevent special-interest funds from distorting elections.

But Justice Kennedy wrote that the effort to divide corporate political spending into legal and illegal forms chilled political speech. "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought," he wrote. "This is unlawful."
Predictably President Obama blasted the decision in a statement released after the ruling today:
With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why 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. The public interest requires nothing less.
The unabashed chicanery of this statement is astonishing.  Frequent White House visitor, SEIU president, Andy Stern bragged openly last year about the money his union spent electing Obama:
"We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama -- $60.7 million to be exact -- and we're proud of it," boasted Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, to the Las Vegas Sun this week. The behemoth labor organization's leadership is getting its money's worth. Whether rank-and-file workers and ordinary taxpayers are profiting from this ultimate campaign pay-for-play scheme is another matter entirely.

The two-million-member union, which represents both government and private service employees, proudly claimed that its workers "knocked on 1.87 million doors, made 4.4 million phone calls and sent more than 2.5 million pieces of mail in support of Obama." It dispatched SEIU leaders to seven states in the final weekend before the election to get out the vote for Obama and other Democrats.
Perhaps today's ruling will remove the free speech gags placed by McCain-Feingold on oil companies who want to actually drill for oil; on banks who did not take bailout money and do not want to be punished with a new banking tax; on health insurance companies who do not want to be bankrupted by a single-payer health care system; on institutional bondholders who were denied their contractual rights in the government takeover of  GM and Chrysler.

Justice Kennedy wrote the 57-page opinion for the majority.  Chief Justice Roberts penned a concurring opinion which begins eloquently:
The Government urges us in this case to uphold a direct prohibition on political speech. It asks us to embrace a theory of the First Amendment that would allow censor-ship not only of television and radio broadcasts, but of pamphlets, posters, the Internet, and virtually any other medium that corporations and unions might find useful inexpressing their views on matters of public concern. Its theory, if accepted, would empower the Government toprohibit newspapers from running editorials or opinion pieces supporting or opposing candidates for office, so long as the newspapers were owned by corporations—as themajor ones are. First Amendment rights could be confined to individuals, subverting the vibrant public discourse that is at the foundation of our democracy.

The Court properly rejects that theory, and I join its opinion in full. The First Amendment protects more thanjust the individual on a soapbox and the lonely pamphle-teer. I write separately to address the important princi-ples of judicial restraint and stare decisis implicated in this case.
You can read the court opinion in its entirety here.

I believe our founding fathers who mutually mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in support of our independence and liberty would be proud of the U.S. Supreme Court today.

No comments:

Post a Comment