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WASHINGTON, September 8th - The Supreme Court will rehear arguments tomorrow for a case that could have dramatic impact on the financing of elections. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, was first heard March, but in a surprising move this summer, Chief Justice Roberts asked for the case to be re-argued to consider a broader set of decisions regarding campaign finance law.
“What’s at stake for our democracy is whether the court will decide to overthrow decades of precedent.” said Lisa Gilbert, U.S.PIRG’s Democracy Advocate. “Ruling in favor of Citizen’s United could exponentially increase the level of corporate involvement in elections.”
During the 2008 election, Citizens United, a nonprofit funded in part with corporate treasury money, produced a negative film directed at then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. A three-judge panel ruled that the film was akin to an ad, and therefore subject to McCain Feingold’s ban on the use of treasury funds for broadcast ads that advocate for or against a federal candidate’s election.
Rather than solely decide this narrow case, the reargument will revisit two other rulings of the court—a 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce that barred corporations from using general treasury funds to pay for campaign advertisements, and a 2003 decision in McConnell v. the Federal Election Commission that upheld the limits on the use of corporate money in ads.
By rehearing the case, in essence, the Supreme Court took a limited challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and expanded it to consider the broader question, is the longstanding ban on corporations spending their immense aggregate wealth to elect or defeat candidates constitutional?
U.S.PIRG’s Gilbert added, “At a time when corporations already have too much to say on Capitol Hill through the mouthpieces of high priced lobbyists, an additional influx of spending by wealthy corporations will raise the volume of corporate voices in the electoral arena as well. This will decrease the importance of regular citizens who are small dollar donors to candidates, and correspondingly lower their voices on the important issues of the day-- from healthcare to global warming to financial reform.”
U.S. PIRG is the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organizations.
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