For decades, the US Government and 24 states have had laws regulating corporate spending to support or oppose candidates running for office. In a most extraordinary US Supreme Court case decided on Thursday, January 21, 2010, justices overruled parts of a 63 year old law which prohibited businesses and unions from producing and running their own campaign ads.
The decision does not change the law prohibiting direct contributions to candidates or the requirment that anyone spending money on political ads must disclose who contributed toward such efforts.
President Obama spoke harshly of the decision, as did a number of other politicians, such as Bob Edgar, a former congressman from Pennsylvania. On the other hand, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky priased the decidion as "restoring the First Amendment rights" of businesses and unions.
Two laws were dramatically altered: the Tilllman Act of 1907 and the McCain-Feingold law. While businesses and unions won’t be able to directly contribute to candidates or their election committees, or coordinate their efforts with either, they will be permitted to spend money urging the support or opposition of candidates. Overruling some aspect of McCain-Feingold, such monies may be spent right up to election time. Expect to see a lot of new corporate and union funded radio and television ads this next election season, especially in the last couple of weeks before the election.
The case arose out of the 2008 Democratic primary, when a group called Citizens United made a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton. Federal Courts concluded that the movie was the equivalent of a long campaign ad, and therefore was subject to regulation as such.
The majority decision was the work of Justices Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts. The decision has been seen as a significant blow to Democrats and a one-two punch after recently losing Senator Edward Kennedy’s seat to a Republican.