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Supreme Court Ruling in Campaign Finance Case Will Help Halt Erosion of Democracy

Dec. 10, 2003

Supreme Court Ruling in Campaign Finance Case Will Help Halt Erosion of Democracy


Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook and Alan B. Morrison,* Founder of the Public Citizen Litigation Group

Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding every one of the key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure is a magnificent vindication of a decade of work by reform groups and key members of Congress who fought for its passage.

The decision helps ensure the removal of the corrupting influence of “soft money” from federal elections so that corporations and labor unions, as well as wealthy donors, will no longer be able to buy influence and access through our national political parties. The decision also will require that all broadcast ads run shortly before elections that are attempting to influence the election or defeat of candidates – referred to as “sham issue ads” – are funded by individual contributions, not from the treasuries of corporations and unions. Further, the sources of those funds will be made public.

Today’s decision represents a home run when it comes to limiting the influence of special interests in our elections. The raising of soft money and the broadcasting of sham issue ads was accelerating exponentially. Had the Court failed to uphold this law, politicians and parties would have been further indebted to interest groups, and the airwaves would have remained saturated with ads benefiting candidates. Today, there is now hope that the erosion of our democracy is somewhat halted.

The majority of the Court clearly understood the two major challenges that Congress faced in regulating soft money and sham issue ads, and correctly concluded that Congress had addressed them in a careful manner that did not infringe on First Amendment rights. The new law does this while assuring that this massive circumvention of our campaign finance laws does not continue.

The majority of justices stated in their opinion that “money, like water, will always find an outlet.” But as money seeks new outlets, Public Citizen will be on guard to be sure that its most corrosive influences on the political process are brought to the public’s attention and that Congress remains ever-vigilant in safeguarding our democracy and the electoral process.

* Alan B. Morrison, a lawyer with Public Citizen, worked on drafting the campaign finance reform legislation and was part of the legal team that represented the bill’s principal sponsors in court.