Could Citizens United v. FEC Render State Campaign Finance Laws Unconstitutional?

By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Senior Vice President

You have probably heard that the U.S. Supreme Court today is hearing rearguments on Citizens United v. FEC—the now famous case surrounding the constitutionality of the ban on Hillary: The Movie by the FEC. The movie, created by the conservative organization Citizens United, portrayed Hillary Clinton in an unflattering 90 minute documentary which was to be shown during the period when Clinton was running in the Democratic Presidential Primary.

But the issue in this reargument is much broader than McCain-Feingold. The issue, whether corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money to message about candidates, could have far-reaching implications and potentially impact restrictions on corporate campaign spending—in any campaign finance law, at the federal or state level.

One of the precedents at issue in the rearguments is Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce. This 1990 landmark decision upholds the constitutionality of a Michigan state law banning corporate expenditures on campaigns. In this case, the court reasoned that since corporations and unions are capable of amassing great wealth, that their voices would overwhelm the voices of others during elections.

Should the Court in Citizens United v. FEC decide to overturn Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce, the impact of the ruling could be far-reaching—rendering McCain Feingold and state restrictions on corporate “speech” unconstitutional. That would certainly make this the most significant decision in the campaign finance arena in decades.


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