Thursday, November 24, 2011

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission / Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act

In 2002, the United States Congress adopted the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” (McCain-Feingold Act) which provided, among other things, that profit and non-profit corporations and labor unions were prohibited from funding advertising regarding candidates for public office within specified time periods before a general or primary election. These provisions were regarded by many to constitute an infringement upon free speech as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Citizens United case ultimately reached the United States Supreme Court which addressed this issue and, in a 5-4 decision (specifically overruling prior cases) declared a major portion of the act unconstitutional. The earlier cases adopted a view that a legislative ban on the capability of corporations to spend substantial sums to influence elections was a sufficiently important government interest to restrict speech, saying that corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections when it is distributed through political contributions. While the court split 5-4 on the issue of corporate funding of political advertising, the justices decided 8-1 to permit disclosure requirements contained in McCain-Feingold to stand.

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