The Supreme Court today invalidated its own 20 year old ruling on group political contributions and it also invalidated a portion of the McCain-Feingold Campaign finance law. The 20 year old ruling had prohibited all political expenditures by groups such as corporations, labor unions, and advocacy groups (like the NRA and Planned Parenthood). Ruling that all persons, individually and in groups, have the same unfettered free speech rights, the Court blasted Congress for suppression of that speech. Thus, from today forward, all groups are free to spend their own money on their own political campaigns and to mention the names of the candidates.
The Court also threw out the portion of McCain-Feingold that had permitted persons to contribute to Political Action Committees (PACs), but barred those PACs from using those funds in the sixty day period preceding an election. Since that sixty day period preceding the election is the most vital in any campaign, the Court held that the prohibition on expenditures during that time was a violation of the free speech guaranteed to all persons, individually and in groups, by the First Amendment.
Thus, as a result of the ruling today, all groups may spend their own money as they wish on their own campaigns, but they still may not--as groups--contribute directly to political campaigns. The direct political contribution prohibition in McCain-Feingold was not challenged in this case, thus its constitutionality was not an issue before the Court. Groups will thus effectively be running and financing their own campaigns for candidates on their own.
The case arose in the context of a challenge by an advocacy group that produced a 90 minute motion picture called "Hillary: The Movie," a highly critical movie about Hillary Clinton, to a ruling by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC ruled that the movie was in reality an anti-Hillary political ad, and since it was financed by an advocacy group, it was banned under the Supreme Court's 20 year old ruling that was invalidated today. That movie can now, two years after it was made and eighteen months after Sen. Clinton abandoned her presidential campaign, be distributed and viewed. During the course of oral argument on this case in October in the Supreme Court, one of the FEC's lawyers replied to a question from Justice Antonin Scalia to the effect that the FEC could ban books if they were paid for by corporations, labor unions, or advocacy groups. This highly un-American statement in the Supreme Court--that the federal government can ban books--infuriated a few of the justices. The conservative justices were joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote between the conservative and liberal blocs on the Court. The Court's newest member, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined the dissent.