High court's campaign finance ruling doesn't affect Ky. but makes McConnell happy and Conway disappointed

06/25/2012 03:46 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Monday to reverse a Montana court’s campaign finance decision won’t affect how Kentucky regulates so-called independent expenditure groups.

The court struck down the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations can’t give to outside groups that run ads in support of or against candidates because a 1912 Montana law forbids corporations from giving to political parties or candidates.

But the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the precedent should prevail from the court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that says corporations should be granted the same rights of freedom of speech in campaigns as individuals.

“The Supreme Court has always distinguished direct contributions to candidates from independent expenditure groups funded by persons under the right to free speech — rights that have been extended to corporations because of Citizens United,” said Emily Dennis, general counsel for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Kentucky law bars corporations from giving to candidates or political party campaign committees.

And Kentucky already has rules in place that allow outside groups — including those funded by corporations — to get involved in Kentucky races — as long as they don’t coordinate with the candidates’ campaigns and provided that they disclose their donors. That issue came up last year during the Kentucky governor’s race.

While the ruling doesn’t affect Kentucky’s campaign laws, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, had joined an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court not to overturn Montana’s law. The attorneys general who signed the brief argued that the court should let states determine their own laws.

Conway issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” in the ruling:

“I am disappointed in today’s ruling by the Supreme Court that effectively denies states the right to limit unfettered corporate involvement in the state political process. States have a significant interest in preventing corruption in the political process and to accomplish this, states must be able to enforce their own laws setting limits on campaign expenditures. The court’s decision to overturn the Montana Supreme Court without even holding arguments is a setback to all of us who seek greater transparency and accountability in our government.”

On the other side, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell filed a brief urging the overturning of the Montana law and trumpeted the ruling today:

“In another important victory for freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has reversed the Montana Supreme Court, upholding First Amendment free speech rights that were set out in Citizens United. As I pointed out in an amicus brief that I filed in the Montana case, a review of Federal Election Commission records of independent spending supporting the eight Republican presidential candidates earlier this year showed only minimal corporate involvement in the 2012 election cycle. Not one Fortune 100 company contributed a cent to any of the eight Republican Super PACs, as of the end of March, according to FEC records. The records also showed that of the $96 million contributed to the eight Super PACs through March 31, an overwhelming 86.32 percent of that money came from individuals while only 13.68 percent came from corporations and 0.81 percent from public companies. Clearly, the much predicted corporate tsunami that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur.”

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