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Vol. 74/No. 6      February 15, 2010

Supreme Court ruling
undermines rights
(front page)
The U.S. Supreme Court’s January 21 decision to overturn restrictions on political advertising paid by corporations also included a little-publicized reaffirmation of laws requiring disclosure of the names of contributors to political campaigns. The disclosure laws are a threat to the right of working people to participate in politics without the fear of government reprisal.

The decisions came out of a lawsuit by the conservative group Citizens United, which had sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over the restrictions. The FEC had refused to allow the group to air advertisements for a 90-minute movie criticizing Hillary Clinton as she sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in the group’s favor that the law restricting some contributions from corporations and labor unions was an unconstitutional prohibition on free speech.

Liberals were “in shock,” according to National Public Radio, and President Barack Obama claimed the ruling will lead to a “stampede of special interest money in our politics.”

But the Supreme Court majority admitted that this part of their decision will have little impact on corporate spending. They noted that campaign donors already “find ways around campaign finance laws” without much difficulty.

The Campaign Legal Center, a liberal campaign “reform” group, called the 8-1 ruling upholding disclosure provisions a “silver lining” in the suit’s outcome. Only Judge Clarence Thomas dissented from the near-unanimous decision. The major capitalist news media barely mentioned the disclosure ruling.

The Supreme Court decision claims that disclosing the names of contributors to political campaigns and causes would not “prevent anyone from speaking.” But then the court notes that in cases where a “reasonable probability” of “threats, harassment or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties” exists, exemptions can be granted.

Thomas ridiculed the Supreme Court’s promise that “as-applied” challenges, a way to get an exemption to the disclosure rules, would protect free speech. This is “a hollow assurance,” he said.

National Public Radio noted, “The retaliation argument rests on some established precedents, including a lawsuit brought by the Socialist Workers Party in 1982.”

The lawyer for one conservative political group cited the SWP’s case to back their opposition to disclosure of contributor names in a similar case before the Supreme Court.

William Lacy claimed that harassment against donors to anti-gay-marriage groups he represents “has been far worse than any of the facts that were put before the Supreme Court in the Socialist Workers exemption.”

The Socialist Workers Party has won exemption from federal disclosure laws since 1979. These exemption requests are part of the fight of workers and farmers and their organizations to engage in political activity, including election campaigns, free from government, boss, and right-wing spying and harassment.

In its 2008 exemption request to the Federal Election Commission, the SWP documented 77 incidents from 2002 to 2008 of “physical attacks on SWP campaign supporters and offices, threatening mail and telephone calls, job firings and discrimination, and harassment of SWP supporters and campaign efforts by federal and local law enforcement as well as private individuals.”

Among the incidents:

A central argument in applying for the exemptions is the finding in the 15-year legal battle, won by the SWP in 1986, that exposed a decades-long campaign of harassment, spying, and disruption by the FBI and other political police agencies.

In 2009, the Federal Election Commission agreed to extend the SWP’s disclosure exemption for four years, two years less than the six-year extensions it had approved in 1990, 1996, and 2003.

In spite of extensive documentation of ongoing harassment of the party, renewal of the exemptions are not automatic. During the 2009 discussion in the FEC, commission member Ellen Weintraub, who voted for the shorter extension, said, “I hope that someday, perhaps next time, this will not be necessary.”  
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