High Court: No Reconsideration Of Citizens United

Jun 25, 2012
Originally published on June 26, 2012 4:27 pm
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And in another ruling, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed its controversial Citizens United decision of 2010. Today, the court overturned a century-old campaign finance law in Montana. The law barred independent political spending by corporations. NPR's Peter Overby has that story.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Montana enacted its law on independent spending after years of scandals involving big corporations influencing its state government. Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock defended that law.

ATTORNEY GENERAL STEVE BULLOCK: From my perspective, it's a sad day for democracy not only in Montana but also across the entire nation.

OVERBY: Citizens United is usually thought of as being simply about corporate money, but today's decision concerns another finding in Citizens United. Back in 2010, the majority opinion restricted the scope of what government can regulate. Here's the gist of it: When a political player, say, a superPAC, spends money independently of a candidate or party committee, it cannot be considered corrupting or giving the appearance of corruption. Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Brad Smith says nothing's happened in the past two years to make the justices reconsider Citizens United.

BRAD SMITH: Voter turnout is up. There haven't been big scandals. Races have been more competitive. So we think it's a good thing to kind of put a nail in the coffin of this idea that Citizens United might be reversed.

OVERBY: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, also a foe of campaign finance restrictions, issued a victory declaration. He says that in the Republican presidential primaries, the eight superPACs raised $96 million, and 86 percent of the money came from individual donors, not corporations. But at the Brennan Center for Justice, senior counsel Adam Skaggs notes the superPACs are spending unregulated money to support the candidates, while the candidates are raising money for the superPACs.

ADAM SKAGGS: The developments that we've seen in election spending since the Citizens United decision came down undermine any idea that this so-called independent spending isn't corrupting.

OVERBY: Still, today's decision leaves the critics of Citizens United with a long, hard road to travel. At the liberal advocacy group Demos, lawyer Adam Lioz says liberals need to educate judges and justices.

ADAM LIOZ: The First Amendment was never intended as a tool for use by the wealthy and powerful to dominate our political process.

OVERBY: And there's a push for a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United, a process that would take many years. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.