SCOTUS hears about Hillary


Actually, “Hillary Clinton: The Movie” was a starting point, but yesterday’s arguments at the Supreme Court had much more to do with how corporations may speak and spend their money and how elections in the United States are conducted.

As it stands now, corporations are prohibited from airing “electioneering communications” 30 days prior to a primary election and 60 days prior to a general election.

Attorneys for corporations used the ban on advertising “Hillary,” a documentary that at the time was deemed nothing more than a 90-minute long electioneering communication to plead for broader relief. According to reports, attorneys for the government seemed resigned to losing the case but wanted to keep the loss as narrow as possible – allowing the Hillary airing, for example, but keeping intact other elements restricting corporate advertising.

There is no doubt where the authors of the John McCain (R-AZ) – Russ Feingold (D-WI) Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act stand – they want as narrow a ruling as possible. In a joint statement, the two Senators wrote, “…at stake in this case are the voices of millions and millions of Americans that could be drowned out by large corporations if the decades-old restrictions on corporate electioneering are called into question.  Overturning the Austin decision would open the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending during elections and undermine election laws across the country.  Those able to spend tens of millions of dollars, like a Fortune 500 company, are much more likely to be heard during an election than average American voters.”

They warned Chief Justice John Roberts that they would personally hold him to promises made during his confirmation. “It was just six years ago that the Supreme Court upheld the electioneering communications provision in McCain-Feingold and nothing has happened in that time to warrant the drastic step of overruling that decision. During his confirmation hearing, Chief Justice Roberts, whom we both voted for, promised to respect precedent.  If he casts the deciding vote to overrule Austin and McConnell, it would completely contradict that promise, and could have serious consequences for our democracy.”

RBR/TVBR observation: There are fears that the Supremes could unleash a torrent of corporate-funded advertising that could change the face of politics and make it almost impossible for candidates who stand up to corporations to ever get elected.

However, many thought there would be a groundswell of corporate spending that used issue advocacy as a method to thinly but legally disguise an attack on a specific candidate for office, as in the Wisconsin Right to Life ads going after Feingold over abortion rights and the approval of judicial candidates even though he was up for re-election and the issue was not currently before the Senate.

WRtL won in court, but there was no huge groundswell in issue ads late in the 2008 campaign. However, that’s not to say their won’t be in the future.

At any rate, we’ll have to wait and see what the Supremes do this this on. Based on the special date for the hearing, many expect a broad interpretation and new rights for corporations. Stay tuned.