Advocacy groups won't get Supreme Court's ear on campaign finance
US Supreme Court declined Monday to examine whether nonprofit political advocacy groups can enjoy less stringent campaign finance rules that corporations and labor unions now do.
On the day before contentious midterm elections, the US Supreme Court declined Monday to take up a case examining to what extent nonprofit advocacy groups enjoy the same broad right to engage in independent political speech that the high court established for corporations in its controversial Citizens United decision earlier this year.Skip to next paragraph
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At issue in SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission was whether federal campaign finance laws violate the First Amendment rights of noncorporate advocacy groups that are seeking to influence elections.
SpeechNow.org is a conservative group that objected to what it viewed as excessive FEC regulations.
The justices did not explain why they decided not to take up the case.
Campaign finance laws and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision have been a rallying cry for many Democrats and President Obama, who personally criticized the high court during his State of the Union address.
Mr. Obama says the court’s ruling in Citizens United, that corporations and unions have a right to spend unlimited money during elections to make a political point, is selling democracy to wealthy special-interest groups.
During the current election, independent groups relying in part on the Citizens United decision have spent more than $250 million on advertisements and other forms of advocacy. But the current election cycle – with a slew of contentious issues and control of Congress at stake – is also seeing record spending by candidates and their parties.
The SpeechNow case was being closely watched because it might have offered the high court an opportunity to broaden, restrict, or clarify its earlier ruling on political speech by corporations and advocacy groups.
Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, organizations whose major purpose is to aid the election or defeat of a federal candidate must register with the FEC as a “political action committee” (PAC). PAC registration triggers a regulatory regime that SpeechNow officials complained was too burdensome, with a tangle of regulations they said rivals the nation’s obese tax code.
“In a free country, citizens should not have to register with government bureaucrats and comply with onerous regulations just to speak,” said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which was helping represent SpeechNow in the lawsuit. “Americans should not have to disclose broad, non-campaign activities to the government, and they should not have to get the government’s permission to disband.”