In a 5 to 4 decision the United States Supreme Court struck down restrictions on corporate campaign spending Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In doing so, it reversed two of its own precedents and paved the way for corporate spending for or against a particular candidate.
“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,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
The case arose through a challenge by the Washington-based Citizens United, the corporation that created “Hillary: The Movie.” The 90-minute film, which creators sought to air on a video-on- demand channel during Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, features interviews with a number of prominent critics of the New York senator. Citizens United released the movie to theaters and to stores in DVD format. It shelved plans to air the movie on “Elections ’08,” a cable channel that would have charged the group a fee according to Greg Stohr of businessweek.com.
The court broke along ideological lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito joining in Kennedy’s 57 page majority opinion. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion which would have upheld the restrictions. He was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the court’s newest member and Obama appointee Sandra Sotomayor.
The reaction of 10th and 11th Congressional district candidates and incumbents also broke along party lines.
Ed Mitchell, spokesperson for Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorski said the Congressman would “wait and see” what effect the ruling has, particularly upon unions. He drew an interesting distinction between the court and the United States Senate. The court opinion was decided by 5 to 4, yet the Senate, with its 59 to 41 split can’t seem to get anything done on health care.
Democratic Congressman Chris Carney said, “I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision. It puts democracy up for sale to the highest bidder and sets a very dangerous precedent that special interests and big corporations with the deepest pockets will be able to purchase their own members of Congress. This ruling throws out a century of precedent designed to keep democracy in the hands of citizens and protect the integrity of our political process.”
Justin Carroll, campaign manager for Corey O’Brien, a Democratic challenger to Kanjorski said, Corey O’Brien is committed to campaign finance reform as a way to level the playing field between taxpayers and well-funded special interests. This is a sad day for Americans who are just trying to keep their jobs, health care and pensions – not worrying about how many millions they can funnel to their favorite Congressman. Corey’s opponent has received more money from Wall Street than just about any other member of Congress, and the Citizens United decision will allow him to take even more.”
Republican challengers for the 10th and 11th (Chris Paige, 11th; Dave Madeira, 10th; and Malcolm Derk, 10th) were pleased with the court’s decision. Mayor Lou Barletta (11th) could not be reached for comment.
Derk said, “I am a firm believer that everyone should have access to the political process.” Admitting that he would like more time to more fully review the entire opinion, Derk said, “from what I’ve read I believe the decision will allow more political discourse. I believe it was a good decision.”
“It was absolutely a good decision,” said Paige. “When you realize that under the old law, a nude dancer had more rights than a corporation, the decision is easy. The answer to speech is more speech. The Supreme Court decision allows for more active and vigorous debate.”
Madeira said, “I’ve been following this case for some time. For the first time in a long time, the Supreme Court gave more weight to the First Amendment than Congress. How it turns out in the long run, we don’t know if it will help incumbents or challengers. The Supreme Court came down on the side of the First Amendment, and that is a good thing.”