Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can money from corporations be considered Political Speech?

Sean Purvis

A major issue come every election year is the funds and advertising used for each campaign. There are many different laws that deal with this issue. However, one of the many arguments against the laws that restrict the amount of money that can be used to support a candidate in an election is that the money that is being used to support the campaigns is actually a form of speech and is protected by the First Amendment and is not allowed to be censored. This argument came to a head fairly recently with the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court on the case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission 558 U.S.____(2010).

This case was a monumental case that will affect the way that campaigns are run for the rest of the foreseeable future because it overruled the decision of the District Court of the District of Columbia as well as Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce 494 U.S. 652 (1990) and McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission 540 U.S. 93 (2003).

This case all started because of a documentary about Hilary Clinton called Hilary: The Movie that was funded by Citizens United and intended to show it by purchasing airtime by using the video-on demand feature. Because this happened within 30 days of a primary, this was considered against section 203 of the 2002 Bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act, or better known as McCain-Feingold. This section classifies this as an “electioneering communication” and is prohibited by the law; a law which was upheld by McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission. It also was in violation of the Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce ruling which upheld regulations on corporate treasury fund spending on Michigan elections (Citizens United v. FEC (Amicus Brief)).

In this case, the main point that was argued is that corporations were equal to individuals in terms of the right to political speech which is protected by the First Amendment. The lower court ruled that corporations were not the same as an individual, but a 5-4 decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court overruled that decision in the District of Columbia District Court. The Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce ruling was overturned altogether as well as the “electioneering communication” section of McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission.

In the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether” (558 U.S. 2 (2010)). Justice Kennedy also added in reference to the decision to overrule some parts of McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission that parts of that decision and the unique rules that came from them were almost equal to prior restraint because it causes the corporations to basically ask the FEC for permission to speak.

The most direct opinion came when Justice Kennedy said, “The Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals—and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. (558 U.S. 8-9 (2010)).” This statement summarizes the entire opinion best because Justice Kennedy is saying that the protection of speech is extended over any type of corporation or group of individuals as if they were one individual. That is the main point of the decision, a corporation needs to still adhere to the rules about contributing to campaigns directly, but they may use whatever funds they can pull together to speak for or against a candidate under any means of broadcasting. Corporations are now, for the purposes of the First Amendment and political speech purposes, individuals.


"Citizens United v. FEC (Amicus Brief)." Brennan Center for Justice. Web. 12 Apr. 2011. <http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/citizens_united_v_fec/>.

Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010). U.S. Supreme Court. 21 Jan. 2010. Www.supremecoutr.gov. Web. 12 Apr. 2011. <http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf >.


  1. This is one of the best explanations of this case that I have seen...


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