On Monday the Supreme Court announced that it declined to review its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 2010 decision ruled that under the First Amendment, corporations and unions have the right to unlimited political spending in support or opposition of candidates in elections.
The court was reviewing the case after the Montana Supreme Court upheld a state law restricting independent election spending by corporations. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Citizens United case meant the Montana law was void, and the state was required to allow unlimited campaign spending.
"The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law," the court's opinion said. "There can be no serious doubt that it does."
It went on to say that the arguments presented by the Montana court "either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case."
The Citizens United decision opened up the possibility for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money either supporting or attacking a candidate with ad campaigns. This deregulation of campaign finance law, through the creation of super PACs, has caused money to pour into the 2012 presidential campaign. This year's race is likely to be the most expensive in history.
The existence of ideological super PACs that back specific candidates has arguably created an advantage for Republicans, who have the support of extremely rich donors willing to write multimillion dollar checks. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson gave $10 million to Restoring Our Future, a super PAC that backs Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Adelson has contributed a total of nearly $35 million to the election, more than twice as much as the next largest donor. Democrats often fail to receive such large donations to liberal super PACs, because many Democratic Party supporters oppose the organizations' existence and the Citizens United decision that allows such spending.
The Obama administration issued a statement expressing disappointment in the court's decision.
"[W]e have seen unprecedented amounts of campaign spending, often by groups that won't disclose their donors," said Obama spokesman Eric Schultz. "Citizens United was wrong when it was decided, and as two Supreme Court Justices have observed since, independent expenditures by corporations are threatening the health of our democracy."
Supporters of the Citizens United decision argue that campaign spending is free speech, and they have the constitutional right to unlimited donations in support of their chosen candidate. Those that oppose it see it as bankrolling elections and a form of corruption that provides an unfair advantage to candidates who can cultivate the wealthiest donors.
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