NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Supreme Court Finds More Exceptions to Free Speech

June 17, 2003

Proponents of regulating political campaign speech are delighted at a 7 to 2 Supreme Court decision yesterday (with Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissenting).

As USA Today editorializes, the decision "...weakened one of opponents' favorite claims: that limits on campaign financing violate free-speech guarantees."

First Amendment advocate Tony Gaziano of the Heritage Foundation says the decision flies in the face of the First Amendment, which does not except political campaigns from free speech rights.

  • The new Supreme Court decision upholds a 1971 ban on direct contributions to political candidates by nonprofit advocacy groups that incorporate.
  • That same 32-year-old law banned independent political spending by such nonprofit groups -- but the Supreme Court found that ban was unconstitutional in 1986 because independent expenditures by these groups were not "corrupting."
  • There is a total ban on for-profit corporations' political expenditures and contributions dating back to a 1907 federal law.

There are a dozen new restrictions on speech in the latest campaign finance law known as the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act. The lower court hearing the challenge to that law could not agree on the constitutionality of the new "soft money" contribution limits necessitated by past "reform" efforts to define and restrict other political donations. But a majority of the appeals court judges struck them down.

Source: Tony Gaziano (Heritage Foundation), "Respect First Amendment," USA Today, June 17, 2003.

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