Public likes campaign-contribution limits

Thursday, January 21, 2010

  • See the survey

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today, in deciding Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overturned a 20-year-old ruling preventing direct corporate, and likely also union, spending for campaign advertising in presidential and congressional campaigns. The Court also struck down part of a law that banned union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the final days of campaigns.

    The ruling does not affect regulations on direct contributions to candidates by corporations and unions. A Gallup survey conducted in October for the First Amendment Center found that a majority of Americans support limits on contributions — even though a majority also consider such contributions a form of free speech.

    The poll, conducted in October by Gallup as part of the First Amendment Center’s annual State of the First Amendment surveys and released today after the Court decision, found:

  •  57% of Americans see contributions to political candidates as a form of free speech, protected by the First Amendment, while 37% do not.

  •  52% say their greater personal priority is placing limits on campaign contributions by individuals, corporations or unions, while 41% say their greater personal priority is protecting the right of those groups to freely support political campaigns.

  •  76% say the government should be able to place limits on how much money corporations or unions should be able to give to a political candidate, while 21% do not.

    “The Supreme Court’s decision is an important affirmation of the role of free speech in a democracy. It’s easy for most Americans to view corporations and associations as faceless entities, but the truth is these are organizations made up of people brought together for a common purpose, whether for profit or policy,” said Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum and First Amendment Center.

    “The right to speak out about the political process has been at the core of the First Amendment since ratification in 1791. You certainly can make the case that the dramatic escalation in spending on attack ads has been a negative for America’s electoral process, but that concern can’t justify short-circuiting the core First Amendment  right  to speak out  on elections and issues,” Paulson said.

    Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, said: “The survey also shows 61% of those surveyed support for limits on individual contributions to candidates — limitations that, while not involved in the Citizens United case, go to the very core of what Chief Justice Roberts in his concurring opinion, called “ ‘the vibrant public discourse that is at the foundation of our democracy’.”

    Experts at the First Amendment Center are available to discuss the survey findings and the Supreme Court decision’s impact on First Amendment freedoms, including:

  •  Ken Paulson, president and chief operating office of the Newseum and the First Amendment Center

  •  Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center

  •  David Hudson, First Amendment Center scholar and attorney.

    # # #

    To arrange an interview with a First Amendment Center expert, please contact:

  • For Ken Paulson: Contact Jonathan Thompson, media relations coordinator, Newseum
    office: 202/292-6353; cell phone: 202/821-8926;

  • For Gene Policinski or David Hudson: Contact 615/727-1600;

    The First Amendment Center supports the First Amendment and builds understanding of its core freedoms through education, information and entertainment. The center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum and the Diversity Institute. Its affiliation with Vanderbilt University is through the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies. Its offices on the Vanderbilt campus are located in the John Seigenthaler Center. The center is nonpartisan and does not lobby or litigate.

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