US Supreme Court strikes down electoral spending restrictions

The US Supreme Court has struck down part of the law which restricts private organisations from spending their money on election campaigns.

Cnet explains why:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s sweeping ruling on Thursday that invalidated large chunks of campaign finance law arose in part from an unlikely source: the emergence of Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, and the decline of traditional media outlets.

A 5-4 majority concluded that technological changes have chipped away at the justification for a law that allows individuals to create a blog with opinions about a political candidate–but threatens the ACLU, the National Rifle Association, a labor union, or a corporation with felony charges if they do the same.

The now-invalidated law “would seem to ban a blog post expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion (PDF). “The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.”

In NZ we don’t have a court that can strike down laws that breach the Bill of Rights. To get rid of the Electoral Finance Act, we had to sack the Government.

The court pointed out that the now-invalidated laws are more sweeping than the term “campaign finance” might imply–and amount to simple censorship. It listed these acts of political speech that previously would have been criminalized: the Sierra Club running an ad (close to the time of an election) disapproving of a congressman who favors logging in national forests; the NRA publishing a book urging a vote against an incumbent U.S. senator who supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creating a Web site telling the public to vote for a presidential candidate because of that candidate’s defense of free speech.

This law was even worse than the EFA!

Joel Gora, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and ACLU lawyer who argued a landmark 1976 Supreme Court case, wrote at The New York Times’ Web site today that the justices “dismantled the First Amendment ‘caste system’ in election speech. Before today, the right to speak depended on who was doing the speaking: business corporations, no, unless they were media corporations; nonprofit corporations, maybe, depending on where they got their funding; labor unions, no.”

What happened of course was these groups formed PACs instead, and just donated to the PACs.

The left in the US are calling this an awful decision. This is ironic as the Obama campaign was the highest spending of all time – the first oen to turn down federal funding and an associated cap. They are not against big money in politics – just against other people’s big money!

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