Campaign-reform advocates said the provision was necessary to prevent a proliferation of noncandidate advertisements (paid for by wealthy corporations and unions) from crowding out the candidates’ own campaign ads.
Critics of the regulation said it amounted to unconstitutional censorship. They argued that corporations should enjoy a First Amendment right to spend money and advocate political and policy positions during election seasons just as individuals can.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed with the critics. “Rapid changes in technology – and the creative dynamic inherent in the concept of free expression – counsel against upholding a law that restricts political speech in certain media or by certain speakers,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make … categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.”
In a 90-page dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens denounced the majority opinion as a dangerous rejection of common sense. “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics,” he wrote.
“The court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation,” he said.