U.S. Supreme Court

Swayed Judicial Races and Pushy Lobbyists: Analysis of Citizens United

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News stories are predicting of flood of corporate campaign spending and an edge for lobbyists after yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down restrictions on corporate electioneering.

The 5-4 ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, strikes down restrictions that had barred corporations from spending money from their general treasuries on independent campaign ads in the days before an election.

Critics of the decision say it will result in a huge influx of special interest money—affecting judicial as well as legislative elections, according to the National Law Journal.

Bert Brandenburg of Justice at Stake is among those who warn of a flood of corporate money going to support or oppose judges. “This ruling pours gasoline on the fire of special-interest money that has been overtaking judicial elections,” he said in a statement published in the NLJ. (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a critic of judicial elections, refused to speculate on that possibility in a December interview with the ABA Journal.)

The New York Times notes another possible effect of the Citizens United ruling: Lobbyists will now have a potent new weapon. They can warn legislators that if they vote the wrong way, the corporation or union they represent will spend huge sums on ads opposing their re-election.

Benjamin Ginsberg, a Republican campaign lawyer with Patton Boggs, said the decision is also likely to increase the influence of outside groups and lessen the impact of political parties.

“It will put on steroids the trend that outside groups are increasingly dominating campaigns,” Ginsberg told the Times. “Candidates lose control of their message. Some of these guys lose control of their whole personalities.”

A tongue-in-cheek analysis at the Huffington Post suggests another effect of the ruling. Now that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals to spend money on electioneering communications, can they now be charged with murder?

“Shouldn’t it follow that when a corporation is bankrupted—killed—that its management could be found guilty of the capital crime of murder?” the blog asks.

SCOTUSblog notes that dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens also got into the speculation game, perhaps with tongue in cheek or in an effort to taunt the majority. “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech,” he wrote.

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