Supreme Court Strikes Down Campaign Finance Restrictions

By Aaron Blake – 01/21/10 10:19 AM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down major provisions of campaign finance reform, though it remained to be seen if its decision represents a revolution in money and politics.

The court upheld disclosure requirements for corporations but also struck down the distinction between individual expenditures and corporate ones.

That should allow corporations to spend freely in support or opposition to candidates.

The case was thought to be a potential gatecrasher for the amount of money in politics, and experts were immediately casting the ruling as a big change – though not as big as it could have – in campaign finance law.

The long-anticipated 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) was thought to clear the way for an influx of corporate funds in political campaigns, and congressional watchdog groups were anxious.
The decision is the latest setback for legislation designed to reduce the influence of money in politics, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), also known as McCain-Feingold.

At issue was a documentary critical of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the 2008 presidential campaign. The film was set to be shown in theaters on on-demand to cable subscribers. The FEC had ruled that Citizens United, a conservative group funded by corporations, could only use limited, disclosed contributions to promote and broadcast the film.

That restriction was upheld by the lower courts, but the Supreme Court has held multiple hearings on the issue while observers have been anxiously awaiting its decision.

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