A ruling handed down last week by the U.S. Supreme Court has
fundamentally changed the nation's campaign finance laws and sent
some state officials scurrying for their law books.
On Thursday, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
corporations, nonprofit groups and trade unions may now spend
unlimited amounts of money advocating for or against politicians -
provided those expenditures are independent of the candidate and the
The court's ruling, legal experts say, has eliminated the
boundary between individuals and corporations in making independent
Writing for the five-justice majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy
said independent expenditures don't corrupt the political process.
"This Court now concludes that independent expenditures,
including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption
or the appearance of corruption," Kennedy wrote. "That speakers may
have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean
that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or
access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this
That ruling sent officials with the state Ethics Commission into
high gear, as they sought to rewrite the state's campaign finance
On Friday, the commission held a daylong public hearing on a
series of new campaign rules designed to bring the state in
compliance with the court's ruling. Ethics Commission Executive
Director Marilyn Hughes said the ruling has changed the complexion
of state political campaigns.
"Corporations can't give, they can spend," she said. "They can
make unlimited expenditures from their own treasury funds that are
independent of the candidate."
But those expenditures, she said, cannot be coordinated by a
candidate. Previously corporations were required to use political
action committees to make political expenditures and those funds
were limited by rule.
"This amendment would conform to the case ruling," she said.
"That ruling says corporations can give an unlimited amount from the
treasury funds to spend toward independent expenditures which are
not coordinated with candidate committees or electioneering
communication, which are expenditures made immediately before
State Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields predicted the court's
action would actually limit political speech.
"It's going to lessen the voice of the little guy," he said.
"It's going to affect everyone."
Fields said the change would allow the business community to
increase its support for conservatives and give labor unions the
opportunity to increase support for progressives. …