Reversing a 20-year old precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that corporations and unions can use money from their general treasuries to make campaign contributions.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that those organizations can use those funds to make independent expenditures not associated with a campaign but can't make direct contributions to a candidate.
The case was brought by the conservative group Citizens United, which challenged restrictions on its ability to air a 90-minute film that was critical of the candidacy of then-Hillary Rodham Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign. It centered on the issue of whether the restrictions on political expenditures by corporations and unions resulted in stifling free speech.
"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. He also concluded that "political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence."
The justices also struck down provisions of a landmark campaign finance law which banned certain advertisements during the final days of the campaign.
The ruling does not affect the activities of political action committees, such as those set up by CUNA and NAFCU, which are funded from voluntary contributions, not the treasuries of organizations.
In writing the minority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the ruling "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."
The case is Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. To read the opinion and dissent go to: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf.