Today’s Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission could have a tumultuous effect on Rhode Island politics and allow Republicans to lean on corporate support to become competitive in state races.
In a divided 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the conservatives in ruling that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend without limits for or against a candidate’s election.
Without having read the entire 183 pages of the decision and the dissents, it appears to me that this decision overturns Rhode Island’s current ban on the use of corporate dollars in a state election.
In other words, the decision appears to make plausible the following scenario.
Textron could spend $500,000 on television ads that urge voters to vote for John Robitaille for Governor.
I agree with Justice Stevens who writes, in relevant part:
The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the politicalsphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.
In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant.Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.