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SCOTUS Ruling Lifts Campaign Finance Restriction

On Jan. 21, 2010 a divided U.S. Supreme Court changed the landscape of campaign finance in a decision relaxing limitations placed on corporations, labor unions, and non-profit organizations.

The 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission negated a provision in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (better known as the “McCain-Feingold Act”) prohibiting corporations, labor unions, and non-profit organizations from financing political advertisements in support or opposition to a political candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who penned the majority opinion, stated that the restrictions in place under the McCain-Feingold Act were counter to First Amendment protections.

The ruling sparked both criticism and praise from the White House, Capitol Hill, and advocacy organizations. President Obama, along with prominent Democrats, denounced the decision as a blow to the public interest and a “green light” for special interest groups to play an influential role in future elections. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) went as far as calling the decision “un-American”, fearing that corporate influence will drown out smaller interest groups. However, not all prognostications were as bleak. Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO lauded the decision, rallying around First Amendment rights for corporate and labor interests. In addition, the ruling was welcomed by free speech advocacy groups.

The decision does not allow unfettered influence for the impacted entities, as corporations and unions are still barred from making direct contributions to candidates and incumbents.



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