Citizens United Goes to Work

This post was co-authored with John Samples.

Another good day for free speech, and a bad day for campaign finance zealots. Following on the heels of the Supreme Court’s stunning decision two months ago in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and applying that holding, all nine active judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously today that government restrictions on the right of citizens to pool their money for independent political ads are unconstitutional.

Individuals have long been able to spend unlimited funds on independent political ads. But if two or more people joined together and pooled their money for the same thing, they were considered a “political committee” and were subject to numerous burdensome regulations, including limits on how much they could contribute to fund the group’s political speech. Today’s ruling removes those restrictions. Citing the fundamental rationale for campaign finance restrictions, Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote, “the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting contributions to an independent expenditure group.”

The case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, was brought by the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics. Although a major First Amendment victory, the decision was not a complete win. The court upheld regulations requiring SpeechNow to disclose its contributors and their contributions and to organize itself as a committee. The court concluded such requirements would not be much of a burden on the speech of the group. We shall see. Experience may indicate otherwise, especially if disclosure leads to retaliation against groups like SpeechNow.

For today, however, the First Amendment is once again vindicated. Take a moment to pause and smile at the achievement.