Just two years ago, this Court held that the First Amendment prevents the government from enacting laws limiting corporate spending in elections. We stated that the identity of the corporate speaker does not matter, that independent spending can neither corrupt the election process nor cause the public to lose confidence in the fairness of elections. We also held that the government’s “antidistortion” interest in preventing the wealthy from drowning out the voice of others is an impermissible end for government regulation. We made a huge mistake.
Since 2010, election spending has increased greatly, through the emergence of “Super PACs” and misuse of the 501(c)(4) organizational form reserved in the Internal Revenue Code for “social welfare” organizations. This Court’s opinion in Citizens United, coupled by developments in the lower courts and the Federal Election Commission, means that a large percentage of the money spent in elections will likely be unreported, and it has become child’s play for individuals, corporations (and potentially–and illegally–even foreign individuals and corporations) to hide their identities.
“Enough is enough.” Cf. WRTL II (opinions of Roberts, C.J.) The government has a strong interest in the integrity of its elections and the prevention of corruption. Recent experience shows that independent spending can indeed corrupt and Congress (and states) may rightly conclude that the inevitable conflict of interest stemming from obscenely large amounts of money in our elections justifies reasonable limits on campaign contributions and spending. As we explain below, Citizens United and that portion of Buckley v. Valeo barring spending limits in elections are hereby overruled, leaving open the possibility for the government to demonstrate that narrowly tailored campaign contribution and spending limits which allow for robust political debate from multiple diverse voices are consistent with the First Amendment.
Justice Scalia, for himself, and Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, and Justice Thomas issued a brief dissent, which begins:
Are you kidding me?