June 29th, 2010
02:47 PM ET
13 years ago

High court affirms ban on "soft money" campaign donations

Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court has affirmed a congressional ban on "soft money"– the unlimited contributions to political parties for so-called "party-building" activities.

The justices in a brief order rejected an appeal from the Republican Party, urging the court to quickly step in and decide whether the soft money ban was unconstitutional. This after the Supreme Court in January eased long-standing restrictions on "independent spending" by corporations and unions in political campaigns.

The conservative majority ruling gave big business, unions and non-profits more power to spend freely in federal elections, threatening a century of government efforts to regulate the power of corporations to bankroll American politics.

That case dealt with independent campaign spending, and Republicans wanted the court to extend that to campaign fundraising by the national parties.

Traditionally, soft money donations have been used for "get-out-the vote" drives, voter registration efforts and ads that say "Vote for Democrats" or "Vote for Republicans." Potential uses of soft money, however, were limited by Congress with the passage of the 2002 campaign finance law known as McCain-Feingold.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas said they would have heard the Republican appeal. It takes at least four members of the court to accept a case for review.
The court's decision was announced at the same time as senators were questioning Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Capitol Hill, during her confirmation hearings. As solicitor general, Kagan had argued the government's case in the campaign spending appeal known as Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

In the separate, current campaign donation case, a federal court in March said those recent campaign finance rulings put the national parties at a disadvantage in relation to outside groups like labor unions and issue advocacy groups, which are not subject to contribution or independent spending limits. The issue is whether federal courts could now give political parties more power to solicit funds. The Supreme Court in 2003 endorsed the ban on soft money.

The Republican National Committee had hoped to overturn the soft money ban in time to affect the November mid-term elections, and help pour lobbying money to influence a range of pending congressional legislation.

Democrats have in general opposed the GOP effort, but like their conservative counterparts, would benefit from any loosening of the soft money ban.

Before the soft money ban was passed in 2002, the two major political parties were able to annually raise hundreds of millions of dollars in unregulated, unlimited donations from wealthy individuals, as well as business and unions. The high court concluded in its 2003 ruling that such donations had an undue influence on the political process, giving certain individuals and groups greater access to elected officials.

Supporters of campaign finance reform say it is designed to prevent corruption in politics. Opponents said it would criminalize free speech and association. Since its enactment, the high court has written more than 23 opinions trying to interpret the law.

The case is Republican National Cmte. v. FEC (09-1287).

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Donkey Party

    Suck on that GOPers!

    June 29, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  2. JohninTampa

    Well! Some common sense! How refreshing.

    June 29, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  3. Bertina

    Supreme Court is so wishy washy. I like that.

    June 29, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  4. Michael, Phoenix AZ

    Unfortuanately, this country was set up by elitists of the 18th and 19th Centuries to run the country for, at the time,for the conviences of the wealthy landholder, slave-owner, and property owner and not the middle or lower middle classes. And now the conservative Republican majority of the Supreme Court has just reaffirmed this status. Read Professor Howard Zinn's book, "The People's History of the United States" to find out what I mean by my statement.

    The Court has now unleveled the playing field in terms of campaign funding in the State of Arizona by nixing the "matching funds" bill passed by the voters of the state. The rich get richer and more powerful.

    June 29, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  5. Malt

    Ironically, McCain was hurt in the 2008 election by the bill that he sponsored. The soft money ban helped get Obama elected.

    June 29, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  6. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    NO money, and I mean NO money should come into a campaign from outside the voter district that person is trying to win election to represent the people in this district, not some deep pocket special interest group from around the globe trying to buy influence. Money from outside the voter district undermines the rights of the people who live within that district from having true representation of their needs.

    June 29, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  7. ehwilson429

    who cares what the Supreme Court says.
    do whatever you want.
    this is a lawless country.

    June 29, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  8. CaliforniaBC

    Just shows where the Republicans' interests REALLY lie. Think about that people before you vote in November.

    June 29, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    LOL...trying to cash in on the Citizens United case GOPers? Hoping you can buy a few elections in November? Now who looks desperate?

    Yet again though...note Scalia and his puppet Thomas. Kennedy is a little bit of a suprise on this one, but he's been a jackhole for about a decade now.

    June 29, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    US government for sale........to the highest bidder.....oh, I mean largest contributor.

    Get your way, with whatever you need done, by the government, for your business, for a large contribution to the politically powerful and wealthy.

    The "little people"? They don't really matter, now do they?

    June 29, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |