The American Independent

Kyle Daly

May 6, 2011

The Center for Responsive Politics revealed Thursday that corporate campaign spending has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision in January 2010. The report comes at the same time as the first major state-level challenge to the controversial ruling.

In the run-up to the 2008 election, Citizens United, a conservative organization that has since aligned itself with the tea party, produced an attack film with the on-the-nose title Hillary: The Movie. When a D.C. court ruled that advertising and widely screening Hillary would be a violation of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, Citizens United took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court ultimately determined that corporate expenditures on “electioneering” constitute a form of protected free speech, and that neither state nor federal law can bar corporations or non-profits from using general treasury funds to support or oppose a candidate.  At the time, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who lost his re-election bid in 2010 to tea partier Daniel Webster, called Citizens United “the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case.”

The Center for Responsive Politics now finds that, following the Citizens United decision, midterm spending on campaign ads and electioneering efforts by outside interest groups (including corporations, nonprofit interest groups and unions) has quadrupled. Moreover, 72 percent of spending for ads around the 2010 election came from groups that were legally barred from such spending before the Court made its decision. Although unions and liberal nonprofits have taken advantage of the ruling, outside spending from conservative groups is where the true growth has occurred. In 2010, election spending from conservative groups without direct party connections was up nearly 10 times what it was during the last midterm election cycle. At $190.5 million, it was also nearly double the $98.6 million that non-party-affiliated liberal groups spent on the 2010 election.

The deluge of corporate money that rushed into the election process once the Supreme Court opened the floodgates has now prompted at least one group to challenge the ruling directly. Free Speech for People is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the idea that constitutional free speech protections intended for individuals don’t extend to corporate spending, nor should they.  The group points out [PDF] that, according to polling done by Hart Research, fewer than 14 percent of Americans agree with the Court’s decision, and that 82 percent of Americans believe Congress should step in to place limits on corporate campaign spending.

Now, Free Speech for People is standing by Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock as he works to appeal state Judge Jeffrey Sherlock’s October ruling that Citizens United made Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act unconstitutional. The Corrupt Practices Act was passed nearly 100 years ago, Free Speech for People co-founder and General Counsel Jeffrey Clements tells The American Independent, because of the undue influence the copper industry had on Montana politics at the turn of the century.  Now, a century on, corporate influence has been restored to its place in the political process; Clements and Free Speech for People co-founder John Bonifaz hope to change that.

To that end, Free Speech for People has filed an Amicus Curiae brief [PDF] (a document that an outside party can submit to provide information to a court) with the Montana Supreme Court, which will be hearing Attorney General Bullock’s appeal of Sherlock’s decision.

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