In its landmark 5-4 decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out years of campaign finance law by ruling that corporations and labor unions have the same First Amendment freedom of speech rights as individuals in using their funds to support or oppose candidates for election. In his dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens raised an interesting, if somewhat sarcastic question: does this mean corporations can vote now?
"Under the majority's view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech," wrote Justice Stevens.
"Suppose that General Motors Corp., troubled that a candidate for Congress from Michigan was too favorable to the United Auto Workers, decided to do everything in its corporate power to defeat that candidate. So, aside from spending huge sums of its own money (none of it federal bailout money) to influence the outcome, it went to the office of the voting registrar in downtown Detroit. It sought to sign up, affirming that it was a citizen and resident of Michigan. Denied registration, it sued, claiming that, under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it was a "person," and, as a "citizen," it was entitled to equal protection under the election laws. Would the Supreme Court buy that?
It should be noted that the Supreme Court, in its ruling, did uphold provisions of current campaign finance laws requiring any corporation that spends more than $10,000 in a year to produce or air the kind of election ad covered by federal restrictions to disclose the names and addresses of anyone who contributed $1,000 or more to the ad's preparation or distribution.