Political Speech and the 1st Amendment
Individuals and corporations are entitled to only limited protection of political speech. Political speech includes the spending or donation of money to political campaigns or undertaking political activism. As such, political contributions by individuals or entities may be subject to regulation. Individuals and businesses are limited in the amount of funds that they can contribute to political candidates for federal office and certain groups that donate to political candidates. Historically, corporations were also limited in their ability to directly fund or undertake political activism. The issue of direct spending in elections came to the forefront in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In this case, the court held that corporations hold rights similar to those of individuals with regard to political speech. As such, many of the existing regulations of the amount of funds or activity that a corporation may spend or undertake with regard to political campaigns were held invalid. This case did not, however, affect the legal limits on individuals and organization to make contributions directly to candidates and groups dedicated to making contributions to candidates.
⁃ Note: These provisions apply to federal elections and not state elections. Also, there is currently no limit on the amount of money that an individual or corporation can make to independent-expenditure-only committees, also known as “Super-Pacs”. These groups spend directly on political activity in support of particular candidates.
⁃ Example: A state passes a law that limits the amount of money that citizens and corporations can give directly to state politicians running for office. While giving money is a type of expression that is protected under the 1st Amendment, this restriction upon individual rights aimed at preserving the integrity of the election system may be constitutional.
⁃ Discussion: How do you feel about a corporation being deemed to have the same freedom of speech protections as individuals? Should the rights of freedom of speech be weighed against the impact of allowing corporations to impact the outcome of political elections?
⁃ Practice Question: Dorothy is very dedicated to supporting her preferred political party and its candidates. She routinely makes donations to candidates and to political groups. She inherits a large sum of money from her grandmother and is considering donating all of the money directly to a candidate that she supports for federal office. Can this result in any legal issues? What are some other options or methods of donating the money in support of the political candidate?