The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation

The Supreme Court, Government Transparency, and “Citizens United”

December 7th, 2009 by Daniel Schuman · No Comments

There is much speculation that the Supreme Court will issue an opinion in a major election and transparency case tomorrow. In one sense, that case, Citizen’s United, concerns whether the FEC can regulate a 90-minute, video-on-demand film, “Hillary: The Movie,” which criticized then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. However, the ruling may affect two Court decisions that recognized the constitutionality of laws that require disclosure of persons who made election-related expenditures. In other words, the public’s ability to follow the money.

Here’s what’s at stake:

The Sunlight Foundation is concerned that overturning [the cases] Austin and McConnell will have a negative effect on government transparency. Even were the Court to strike down regulations that ban the expenditure of corporate treasury (i.e., non-PAC) funds on producing “Hillary: The Movie,” we believe that the public has the right to know who is funding the movie, and how much they have spent doing so. In addition, striking down Austin and McConnell would likely generate uncertainty about the constitutionality of many other laws that require disclosure and reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures. There should be no doubt that our transparency laws are on solid constitutional footing.

When the Court acts, in addition to watching the Sunlight Foundation blog, here are two fantastic resources:

  • SCOTUSBlog: will likely have the opinion online before the Court does — here’s why — and analysis before anyone else.
  • ElectionLawBlog: will have the best web coverage plus great analysis from experts.

For background information, please see:

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