Two campaign finance experts led a forum hosted by the Federalist Society in the University of Wisconsin Law School Wednesday night on the Citizens United case and its potential implications for political campaigns.
In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting expenditures for political purposes by corporations and unions.
Allison Hayward, vice president of policy at the Center for Competitive Politics, said the Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United case was correct, as well as modest and overdue.
“I think it was correct because it’s not a radical departure from the way expressive activities were treated generally under the First Amendment,” Hayward said. “Citizens United … brought corporate political expression into the same family of protected speech that everything else was in.”
She added the Citizens United decision restored campaign finance law back to its previous state decades ago, before the use of general treasury funds for campaign expenditures was outlawed to ban labor unions from contributing to political campaigns after World War II.
However, Executive Director for Common Cause Wisconsin Jay Heck attributed the Citizens United decision to changes in the Supreme Court’s composition.
He also said the fear over money’s potential to corrupt politics or show an appearance of corruption previously restricted the Supreme Court from repealing campaign finance regulations.
“To suggest that a corporation should have the same rights as an individual, seems to me, not to follow,” Heck said.
Heck added these decisions could have a powerful effect on Wisconsin politics and the presidential election over the next year.
“In the recall election that will involve Gov. Walker and a yet to be determined Democratic opponent, and certainly in the general election in Wisconsin, we will have outside groups outspending the candidates themselves,” Heck said. “And these outside groups will not be disclosing where that money comes from.”
Hayward also said the recent illustration of corporations as people is a misrepresentation of the Citizens United decision.
“The notion that the problem is the court has said corporations are people is a red herring,” Hayward said. “Corporations are not people … but the Constitution was written in the negative to restrict abridging freedom of expression … nowhere are those rights limited to human beings.”
However, Hayward and Heck both agreed one potential way to resolve some of the issues arising from the Citizens United decision would be to allow political parties, candidates and politicians to play a larger role in their own campaign financing.
UW journalism professor Robert Drechsel also questioned how the decision might impact media outlets, adding the law in question in the Citizens United case may allow Congress to interpret the media as falling under corporations, which could be regulated.
“Citizens United is so important in a lot of ways, and so it raises a lot of different questions, one of which is the question of what the impact will be on the media,” Drechsel said. “I’m no fan of the decision by any means.”