Friday, February 26, 2010

Supreme Court says: Campaign money in, McCain-Feingold out

On Jan. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution's First Amendment freedom of speech does not prohibit corporate campaigning for candidates close to election cycles.

The Court narrowly split in a 5-4 decision. Citizens United v. FCC has been called a free speech victory by some but a defeat by others.

At the state level, the ruling overturns limits on corporate election spending in dozens of states. In the federal arena, it negates about sixty years’ worth of previous laws limiting corporate campaign money, especially the most recent Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act).

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) prohibits corporations and organizations from sponsoring advertisement for a particular candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

It’s been debated whether this Act, prohibiting “issue advocacy ads” or "election communications broadcasts,” is unconstitutional, in that it stifles the free speech of collective groups around elections when it is most important to keep citizens informed.

Although not specifically stated in BCRA, the Act’s wording also limited paid election free speech from unions, general marketplace organizations, religious and grassroots organizations, even those with non-profit 501 (c) 3 status.

Concern about losing this type of freedom of speech came from members of Congress and organizations running the spectrum from conservative pro-life groups to liberal green environmental groups.

The grassroots organization Concerned Women for America (CWA) sees this Supreme Court decision as a victory for religious free speech.

In its Media release on 1/21/10, CWA’s CEO Penny Nance wrote:
"The Court correctly concluded that judges should stop playing semantics with our Constitution and read the text as it is written. The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view. Americans are the real winners today.”

Nance also noted it's a matter of record that many senators voted for McCain-Feingold with the knowledge that it might be unconstitutional.

According to a Washington Post report, President Obama called the Supreme Court ruling a defeat for American people, saying that removing these limitations will allow "a green light to a new stampede of special interest money."

Writing for the Court’s decision, Justice Kennedy stated, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

For the dissenting judges, Justice Stevens called it a radical change in the law ignoring the opinion of most previous Supreme Court justices.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act prohibited campaign money not only for candidates, but for simple discussion of issues within election time frames.

This article was originally published at The Underground Online Magazine. Check out the Underground for a fresh perspective.


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