In its 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that money reigned over all when it came to financing political campaigns by deciding that unlimited corporate campaign donations do not need to be regulated. First amendment rights, the court decided, means independent expenditures by corporations and unions could not be limited to any particular dollar amount as they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Since that case, super PACs have flooded the political arena, offering companies, investors and the affluent the chance to give massive donations without disclosure for the purpose of trying to defeat candidates or initiatives.
Not everyone was so willing to agree with the court’s ruling, however. The state of Montana initiated its own challenge to the law, noting their own state law barring corporations and outside groups from making unlimited independent expenditures in elections, a direct contradiction to Citizens United. But those who hoped that Montana’s law would give the Supreme Court a chance to reverse its position have been sorely disappointed. The court today refused to revisit the case.
The New York Times reports:
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In a brief unsigned decision, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to have another look at its blockbuster 2010 campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-to-4 vote, the majority summarily reversed a decision of the Montana Supreme Court that had refused to follow the Citizens United decision.“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the opinion said. “There can be no serious doubt that it does. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”
Jessica Mason Pieklo writes:
The immediate impact of this decision cannot be overstated. There was at least an arguable case to make that the holding of Citizens United did not extend to the state and local elections. It is nearly impossible to make that argument now. So that means we can expect a flood of corporate dollars into all state and local races and a similar flood of legal challenges to state laws banning or curbing such donations.
Big money in politics is here to stay.
We are already staring down the barrel of a campaign cycle dominated by a few extremely rich donors who will pay whatever necessary to get their candidates elected. Although that dominance of donors was inevitably going to heavily influence federal campaigns, there was still hope that at the very least local elections would not simply be based on who can spend the most to buy elections. Now even that may be too much to hope for.