January 21st, 2010, Fairfax, VA—Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson today praised the Supreme Court for overturning key aspects of the McCain-Feingold campaign restrictions, calling the decision “a decisive victory for the First Amendment, free speech, and open and fair elections.”
“The Roberts Court will go down as the greatest defender of the First Amendment since James Madison wrote it,” Wilson declared, calling the overturned restrictions “censorship.”
“The twin pillars of censorship by the FEC Act: the so-called ‘influencing language’ standard whereby any speech that ‘influenced’ elections could be regulated, and the ‘appearance of corruption’ standard whereby any donations and expenditures that lead to the ‘possibility’ of corruption have now been struck down by the Roberts case,” Wilson explained.
“First, the ‘influencing language’ standard in Wisconsin Right to Life case, and now the ‘appearance of corruption’ standard in today’s Citizens United decision,” Wilson added.
According to the majority ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, “Limits on independent expenditures, such as §441b, have a chilling effect extending well beyond the Government’s interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption. The anticorruption interest is not sufficient to displace the speech here in question.”
“Under this ruling, corporate entity restrictions on political campaigning have thankfully been overturned, as they have a chilling effect on legitimate political speech protected by the First Amendment,” said Wilson.
Wilson also condemned Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for calling the decision “un-American.”
“Chuck Schumer needs to have his head examined,” Wilson said, adding, “the First Amendment was upheld in this case. It doesn’t get any more American than that.”
In Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the court ruled against provisions that restricted Citizens United from broadcasting a movie it developed, Hillary: The Movie, that was supposed to air during the 2008 Democratic Primary. In particular, the court ruled that federal restrictions on independent political expenditures by a corporation is a violation of the First Amendment.
The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Citizens United.
According to Nathan Mehrens, Counsel for Americans for Limited Government, “the ruling set a major precedent. It’s going to be very tough to impose new campaign restrictions on corporate entities’ independent expenditures.”
The law, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as McCain-Feingold, “set up distinctions between individuals and corporate entities, treating them far different in the context of making independent expenditures constituting political speech.”
Mehrens said it was a “very good” ruling. “The McCain-Feingold restrictions were so bad, that groups could not even mention a candidate’s name during ‘black-out’ windows,” Mehrens explained, pointing to limits on when messages could be broadcast prior to primaries and elections.
“The case was filed by Citizens United as a pre-enforcement, as-applied challenge by Citizens United, meaning that they had not yet been restricted by the FEC. Citizens United, in winning the case, was able to show that restrictions did apply in this instance and that there was a reasonable likelihood that the FEC restrictions would be applied,” said Mehrens.
“In this case, the court decided that the issue was not moot despite the fact that the 2008 elections are over because they made a determination that this could happen again going forward,” Mehrens added.
Wilson said that the ruling “could set a template for groups to unhinge unconstitutional restrictions in the future through pre-enforcement challenges.”
Mehrens described the ruling as “pretty broad.”
“The only thing that really survived was the reporting requirements for the disclosure of campaign donors’ information, because Citizens United could not show the likelihood of injury,” Mehrens explained.
However, Mehrens said that “There are more cases in the pipeline that deal with campaign finance disclosures,” including Doe #1 et al v. Reed, WA Sec. of State, et al, U.S. Supreme Court Docket #09A356.
“The Supreme Court stayed an order of the 9th Circuit thereby preventing the WA Sec. of State from releasing the names of the signers of Referendum 71,” Mehrens said, adding, “While this case deals with referendum signers and not those who give financial contributions, the disclosure issue is similar.”
The Supreme Court vote was 8-1 to stay the 9th Circuit’s order.
Wilson called the ruling a “major step in overturning arcane, gargantuan censorship boards, laws and regulations that tie up our electoral processes in red tape, restrict speech, and favor incumbents.”