Federal election law has required the public disclosure of campaign donors for nearly 40 years. But this year, outside groups are playing a powerful role in the presidential election. And some of them disclose nothing about their donors. That’s despite what the Supreme Court said in its controversial Citizens United ruling two years ago. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the Citizens Unitedopinion, which said that corporations can pay for ads expressly promoting or attacking political candidates. “Political speech is indispensable to decision making in a democracy and this is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation rather than an individual,” Kennedy said in a 9 1/2-minute summary he read from the bench. But that wasn’t the whole decision.
The nonprofit corporation called Citizens United, which had released a documentary critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential race, had challenged the disclosure requirement, saying it wasn’t helpful to the public. Kennedy shot that down.
“We reject Citizens United’s challenge to the disclaimer and disclosure provisions,” he said from the bench. “Those mechanisms provide information to the electorate. The resulting transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and different messages.”