Court could topple campaign finance laws

Sept. 9, 2009 at 2:43 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised Wednesday to shake up a century of campaign finance law, easing restrictions on corporate donors, an analysis says.

In a highly unusual move, the justices reheard argument in the case involving an attack "documentary" called "Hillary: The Movie." The film's backers wanted to make it available as an "on demand" movie on cable television during the 2008 race for the presidency.

But federal courts ruled the movie, financed partly with funds from unnamed corporations, violated the 2002 McCain-Feingold law. The law, among other things, bans the broadcast or cable transmission of "electioneering communications" paid for by corporations in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general election.

The Supreme Court heard argument in the case last term, but in ordering the case reheard, broadened it from a statutory challenge to a constitutional one based on free speech. The New York Times editorial page said the case now "could up-end campaign finance laws restricting corporate contributions going back to 1907."

In the rehearing Wednesday, three court members -- Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- gave no indication they have changed their position favoring the overturn of 1990 and 2003 precedents upholding campaign finance restrictions, a SCOTUSBLOG.com analysis said.

Two presumed question marks, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, also indicated skepticism about the restrictions, the analysis said. Roberts in particular appeared to reject Obama administration arguments, and at one point "openly ridiculed" the contention corporate political spending must be curbed to protect stockholders who may not agree with how the money is spent, the analysis said. Roberts called the position "a paternalistic argument" with "Big Brother" having to "protect shareholders from themselves."

A decision in the case, Citizens United vs. FEC (08-205), could come within months and be either broad or narrowly tailored.

The rehearing was scheduled during the court's summer recess. The new term doesn't begin until the first Monday in October.

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