The Supreme Court just ended the long-held ban prohibiting corporations from spending money on political advertisements:
WASHINGTON — Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
The ruling was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech. The dissenters said allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace will corrupt democracy.
The 5-to-4 decision represented a sharp doctrinal shift, and it will have major political and practical consequences. Specialists in campaign finance law said they expected the decision, which also applies to labor unions and other organizations, to reshape the way elections are conducted.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of this ruling. It basically throws out the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and says that the government can’t tell corporations (including non-profit advocacy groups and labor unions) when and how they can spend their money to influence an election. Up till this point, the law banned groups from paying for ads 30 days prior to a general election unless the ads were not actually advocating for a candidate.
I think this is the correct ruling. I understand the arguments for restricting spending on campaigns — we don’t want corporations and advocacy groups with a bunch of money to misled the public buying up all the airtime right before an election. For the good of democracy, the argument goes, we should limit how much speech certain groups can have. But, in practice, corporations and advocacy groups were still spending a lot of money, despite all the laws. In Georgia, I saw plenty of ads that worked their way around the law. They’d tell me what sinister thing my elected official was up to and suggest I call them and ask them to stop. What they were really saying was — vote for the other candidate.
In the end, I agree with former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who said that “money, like water, will always find an outlet.” Crafting layer upon layer of regulation will never stem the flow of money into politics — so let’s just let it flow. In the marketplace of ideas, the best ideas will win.