5-4 SCOTUS split on state campaign funding may signal need for change

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Democracy took another hit with this week’s 5-4 split decision by the Super Supremes to overturn a 1912 Montana law that limited corporate spending on state political campaigns. And the court announced its decision without oral arguments in what is known as a “summary reversal.”

In doing so the majority signaled its continued support of its 2010 Citizens United decision that permits an orgy of spending by corporations and unions and their so-called Super-PACs  in political campaigns—as long as the money isn’t run through the candidates’ coffers. The decision extends the Citizens United ruling to the state elections.

The issue in Citizens United was framed as a free speech case allowing corporations and other legal entities to exercise their rights monetarily despite federal limits on campaign finance spending. The results were obvious in the GOP primary season with Super PACs supporting various candidates, with the presumptive GOP nominee, a millionaire in his own right, getting millions more from Super PACs. President Obama, I am sure, will reap the same largesse from other Super PACs in the run-up to the November election.

The Montana Attorney General in the case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, expressed disappointment over the decision. Montana’s law was passed a century ago to counteract to the influence and wealth of the state’s copper mining interests that voters felt allowed to corporate corruption and definitely dominated the state’s politics and politicians.

Hmmmm, our recent recession and bank failures comes to mind and the lukewarm efforts of either party to get serious about regulations and controls.

Beneficiaries of this unlimited largesse are the candidates themselves, the funders behind the Super PACs who are likely counting on quid pro quo for their largesse, advertising agencies that create campaigns and TV stations that see their ad revenue soar in election years.

With the Supreme’s decision on the so-called Obamacare law due on Thursday, the President may be thinking FDR’s failed court-packing effort to expand the Court from 9 to 15 had merit. Jonathan Turley a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, where he teaches a course on the Supreme Court, seems to think so. His op-ed piece makes for provocative reading.