Today, in a 5-4 party-line vote, the SCOTUS made clear that their previous Citizens United decision trumps any individual state's efforts to prevent big corporate money from outright buying elections.
Previously, the Montana State Supreme Court had upheld a 1912 state law limiting political activity by corporations, specifically outside spending. The 2010 Citizens United ruling permitted unlimited campaign spending by corporations, stating that corporations have the same free speech rights as rich people, who have long enjoyed the ability to spend massive sums of independent money on behalf of federal candidates. Today's decision makes clear that the current SCOTUS is not going to reconsider or reverse itself on Citizens United any time soon.
What's the implication for Texas? I emailed James Cousar, an attorney who is an expert in campaign finance law here in Texas. My question: "Here in Texas, does that mean our state law's ban on corporate contributions is lifted?" His answer:
I don't think so. Montana was seeking to uphold its ban on corporate political expenditures, not corporate contributions. Montana argued that its history of corrupt corporate activity in politics justified a state ban on corporate political expenditures in spite of the Supreme Court's First Amendment rationale for striking down similar bans in Citizens United. So far the Supremes have not barred the states or feds from prohibiting or limiting corporate political contributions. The Court may yet do that if Thomas, Scalia and Alito get their way. Thomas has stated in previous opinions that he would strike down any state or federal ban on corporate political activity.
It seems that SCOTUS is simply making clear that Citizens United is the de facto law of the land, and that corporations can spend independently and excessively as they please in any race at any level of the ballot.
Meanwhile, Congressman Lloyd Doggett released the following statement in response to the SCOTUS ruling:
"While most of this week's focus at the Supreme Court is appropriately upon immigration and health reform, this Montana ruling means that more and more secret corporate money can continue to pollute our democracy. Special interests, like those which have obstructed affordable health care, are reauthorized to dump unlimited, hidden monies to slant this year's elections and to thwart the public interest. Limiting this onslaught will be a difficult, prolonged struggle that may require a constitutional amendment."
Chew on this for a second: four of the current SCOTUS justices are at or over 70 years old. Ginsberg (79), Scalia (76), Kennedy (75), and Breyer (73) might all retire within the next four years. Ginsberg and Breyer were appointed by Clinton and are part of the court's liberal wing. Scalia and Kennedy were appointed by Reagan. Scalia is considered a stalwart conservative; Kennedy is at times a "swing vote." Whomever wins the Presidential election this November may be able to appoint four Supreme Court justices for life.
Think about who you want to appoint the next SCOTUS justices: Barack Obama, who wants a constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United, or Mitt Romney, who actually said, "corporations are people."
Seems pretty clear to me. But then, I'm just a lowly human being, not a corporation.