Unions, corporations and other advocacy groups had been prohibited by law from spending money to promote a particular political candidate or position within 30 days of an election. The Supreme Court has said, that’s not right. Although such groups are still restricted in donating cash directly to candidates and parties, they have as much right to express themselves as anyone else. Press release courtesy Hale Friesen, LLP.
Denver, Colorado – In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court today reversed restrictions on the ability of corporations, nonprofit advocacy groups, and labor organizations from spending money to influence the election of candidates for public office.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, announced today, invalidated key portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act, that prohibited corporations and labor organizations from spending money on independent advocacy for or against candidates for federal office, and barred using corporate funds for “electioneering communications,” broadcast advertisements or direct mailings that refer to a candidate within thirty days of primary election, or sixty days of a general election. The decision overturned two earlier decisions that had upheld the ban on such direct corporate participation in the political process.
Business corporations, industry trade groups, and nonprofit advocacy organizations are now permitted to spend money for independent ads that encourage a vote for or against particular federal candidates, or refer to the position of federal candidates or officeholders on certain issues and legislation within thirty days of primary election, or sixty days of a general election.
In a 5-4 decision, the High Court reasoned that “Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people—political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence.” The Supreme Court declared, “There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”
The decision leaves in place the prohibition on corporations and labor unions from making direct contributions or coordinated expenditures with candidates and political party committees. The decision also leaves in place most of the disclosure and disclaimer requirements currently in place.
Because Colorado’s campaign finance regime mirrors many key components of the federal law invalidated by the Court in Citizens United case, today’s ruling calls into question provisions of the Colorado Constitution that prohibit corporations from engaging in a number of political activities.