AMERICAN COMPANIES UNLIMITED
What Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Means for Companies’ Political Campaign Spending
WHITE PAPERJUNE 2011
With President Barack Obama now in re-election mode and Republican presidential
hopefuls visiting key primary states, the 2012 presidential campaign is under way.
Every day, there seem to be even more Republican and independent potential
contenders thinking about whether they want to take a leap into presidential politics
or sit this cycle out.
As the race begins to heat up, candidates will need to raise a record number of
campaign dollars. Presidential candidates, as well as candidates running for other
federal and state offices, will find new challenges because of the recent Supreme
Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The dramatic court
ruling resulted in a decision that allows, for the first time in more than 60 years,
corporations and unions to give unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries
for political advertisements and broadcasting—even to companies owned by foreign
corporations. In fact, corporations and unions are equated with individuals. This
means they can spend unlimited amounts of money on supporting or even opposing a
specific candidate for public office up to the day of the primary or general election,
which was not the case in any former presidential race.
Before any corporation or union decides to invest large amounts of money in any
specific candidate, it will need to know more about the challenges, as well as the
opportunities. Companies will need to carefully consider many aspects of this
decision, such as:
• The ruling is a radical shift in policy that will affect the cost and access of media
buys for corporations, unions and candidates during primary and general races.
• Opposition to the ruling has resulted in companion legislation introduced in both
the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to combat the impact of
• National polls show that the concept of a foreign-owned company interfering
with U.S. elections makes Democratic, Republican and non-party-affiliated
• The risks involved for any corporation or union to be viewed as partisan by its
customers, consumers or members might outweigh any benefits.
• Some corporations and unions will take the risk; therefore, they will need to
evaluate what’s best for them to stay competitive.
Corporations and unions will need to assess their brand, where and when they could
be involved with a candidate or campaign, and how it will affect their business.
Euro RSCG Worldwide commissioned political consultant Jennifer Ryan Safsel of
Sagamore Strategies to write this white paper to help companies understand their
options and the facts surrounding the Citizens United v. Federal Election
Commission ruling. Safsel works with nonprofits, private corporations, campaigns
and small businesses on political, grassroots, strategy and public affairs projects.
Read on for explanations of the major arguments of the ruling, reactions from U.S.
senators and congressmen, key points that will affect businesses and possible
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On Jan. 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. Federal
Election Commission (docket No. 08-205) rejected a ban on corporate spending in
federal elections in the final 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary
This ruling overruled two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a
1990 decision that upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose
political candidates, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, a 2003 ruling
that upheld part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) that
restricted spending by corporations and unions. Corporations have been banned since
1947 from using their profit to endorse or oppose candidates for elective office, a
restriction that the Court now ruled unconstitutional.
The divided Supreme Court ruling, with a vote of 5-4, was a sharp turn from decades
of finance reform legislation put in place to control the amount of money
corporations could spend on broadcasting political advertisements and documentaries
in support of or against an individual candidate. It was viewed by some as a step
forward in protecting First Amendment principles: the right to engage the freedom of
speech, particularly political speech, and the right of free association.
As a result, the decision removes limits on independent expenditures that are not
coordinated with candidates’ campaigns; therefore, corporations and not-for-profits
can spend any amount of money they want to run ads, and there’s no limit as to
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when those ads can be run. Corporations and nonprofits are, however, still limited
in what they can directly donate to a candidate’s campaign committee. The ruling
might affect state as well as federal campaigns.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision. As his argument to
overturn the current ruling, he invoked the First Amendment right of freedom of
speech that confirms the freedom to think for ourselves. He said that the
marketplace of ideas guaranteed by the Constitution includes corporations,
which, after all, represent a significant segment of society and of our economic
life. He emphasized: “When Government seeks to use its full power, including the
criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or
what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control
thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think
Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote part of the decision for the case that was
overturned (the BCRA, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act), called the five-
justice majority’s decision a “radical departure from what had been settled First
In his dissent, Stevens warned that “[t]he Court’s ruling threatens to undermine
the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.…In the context of election
to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is
significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society,
corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office.
Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may
conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters.… It might
also be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no
thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of
human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal
fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for
whom our Constitution was established.”
In concurring with Kennedy’s written argument, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:
“The authorized spokesman of a corporation is a human being, who speaks on
behalf of the human beings who have formed that association—just as the
spokesman of an unincorporated association speaks on behalf of its members. The
power to publish thoughts, no less than the power to speak thoughts, belongs only
to human beings, but the dissent sees no problem with a corporation’s enjoying the
freedom of the press.”
In Citizens United, the Court ended the suppression of corporate and union
speech. Many have predicted this will have dire consequences. Says Sen. Mitch
McConnell (R-KY): “What they fail to mention is that 26 states already allow
corporate and union speech, something that has had no discernable adverse
impact. Any proponent of free speech should applaud this decision. Citizens United
is and will be a First Amendment triumph of enduring significance.”
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Points of the Ruling
•The ruling strikes down a 63-year-old ban on corporations and labor unions using money from their
corporate treasuries to produce and air campaign ads in races for Congress and the White House.
•Under the ruling, corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money to air campaign ads 30
days before a primary election and 60 days before a general election.
•The ruling does keep in place a ban on direct coordination with the candidates and/or their campaign
committees. This means the corporations and unions must act independently from the candidates’
election committees and cannot strategize on an ad or its content.
•The decision does not address companies or unions contributing directly to candidates. Therefore,
corporations and unions will still need political action committees (PACs) to donate directly to candidates.
PACs are still limited to $5,000 donations in a primary and $5,000 in a general campaign cycle, a total
of $10,000 per candidate, per election. Not all candidates for U.S. Senate and Congress take PAC
•Foreign-owned corporations can air advertisements or documentaries that support or oppose a candidate.
Not in 100 years has this been allowed.
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The nonprofit corporation Citizens United (Citizens), a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt
entity, produced the 2008 documentary Hillary: The Movie, about Hillary Clinton,
to coincide with the presidential election. Citizens planned the releases of and
advertising for the movie around important 2008 events—state presidential
primaries and caucuses, the Democratic National Convention and the general
presidential election—to affect the races.
The documentary critically depicted Clinton’s record as first lady, U.S. senator and
presidential candidate and expressed the nonprofit’s opinions about whether she
was qualified to be president. Citizens knew the movie would be perceived as
“electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days
of a general election. Therefore, knowing it would conflict with the BCRA (the
McCain-Feingold Act), Citizens sought an injunction to block the Federal Election
Commission (FEC) from enforcing sections 201, 203 and 311 of the law on the
grounds that they violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
According to Section 203, corporations and unions are prohibited from airing
“broadcast, cable or satellite” communications made within 30 days of a primary
election or 60 days of a general election. Disclosure of electioneering
communications restricts nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations and labor
unions from funding electioneering communications from their general funds
except under certain specific circumstances—for example, candidate forums. They
are still subject to regulations adopted by the commission.
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If a person gives a total of $10,000 or more a year for the production and airing
of electioneering communications, he or she is required to disclose the full
amount with the FEC within 48 hours. The disclosure must include the names and
addresses of person(s) who have contributed more than $1,000 to accounts
paying for the communication—although corporations and their donors should be
aware that they more likely will have to give their name, address and employer
information when contributing $200 or more. Section 311, which contains a
disclaimer provision for electioneering communications, says that an entity
responsible for the communications, if not authorized by the candidate or the
candidate’s political committee, must contain a statement that the organization
“is responsible for the content of this advertising.”
BCRA’s Section 403 sets rules for constitutional challenges to its provisions.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
must handle such claims. Appeals from this court go directly to the U.S.
The district court refused to grant Citizens’ request in Citizens United v.
FEC. The court noted that the Supreme Court upheld BCRA’s Section 203 in
McConnell v. FEC and rejected the argument that the funding of electioneering
communications “constituting express advocacy or its functional equivalent” is
protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. “As applied” challenges—
specific applications of the law to certain communications—are a different
matter. In FEC v. Wis. Right to Life, Inc., the high court held that
advertisements only constitute express advocacy or its functional equivalent if
they are “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to
vote for or against a specific candidate.” The district court held that Citizens’
movie was the “functional equivalent of express advocacy” and ruled that its
critique of Clinton’s presidential character, candidacy and qualifications was
intended to convince voters that she should not be elected.
creativecommons.org/maveric2003 8 WHITE PAPER: AMERICAN COMPANIES UNLIMITED
“I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court
and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union
contributions. However, it appears that key aspects of
the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), including the
ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.”
—U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), co-author and co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign
Reform Act of 2002 (Public Law 170-155), also known as the McCain-Feingold Act
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN’S VIEW
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“It is important to note that the decision does not affect McCain-Feingold’s
soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate contributions to the
political parties from corrupting the political process. But this decision was a
terrible mistake. Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme
Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money
in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important
principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given
corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns. Just six years
ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into
their treasuries to influence campaigns was ‘firmly embedded in our law.’ Yet
this Court has just upended that prohibition and a century’s worth of campaign
finance law designed to stem corruption in government. The American people
will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are
drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming
weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of
the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.”
—Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), co-author and co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign
Reform Act of 2002 (Public Law 170-155), also known as the McCain-Feingold Act
FORMER SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD’S VIEW
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Although the movie about Hillary Clinton might have been subject to BCRA Section
203, the FEC conceded that advertising for the movie was not. However, Citizens
objected to disclosure and disclaimer requirements under BCRA, claiming they did
not apply because they weren’t “express advocacy or the functional equivalent”
under Wis. Right to Life. The district court held that McConnell and Wis. Right to
Life did not apply that standard to the disclosure and disclaimer requirements,
provisions to which the Supreme Court had shown some approval in the past.
Citizens appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. After hearing arguments on
the case in March 2009, the Supreme Court did not render an opinion. Instead, the
case was rescheduled for reargument on whether the Court should reverse prior
holdings sanctioning laws that restrict how corporations can make political
contributions. It was phrased this way:
For the proper disposition of this case, should the Court overrule either or
both Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), and
the part of McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U.S. 93 (2003),
which addresses the facial validity of Section 203 of the Bipartisan
Campaign Reform Act of 2002, 2 U.S.C. §441b?
The Austin opinion held that a Michigan law that prohibited nonmedia corporations
from using general funds to make political contributions, requiring such
contributions to be made through “separate segregated funds” set up for political
purposes, was constitutional. As noted earlier, McConnell held that Section 203 in
BCRA is also constitutional. The ruling overruled these precedents:
Austin is overruled, and thus provides no basis for allowing the Government
to limit corporate independent expenditures. Hence, §441b’s restrictions
on such expenditures are invalid and cannot be applied to Hillary. Given
this conclusion, the part of McConnell that upheld BCRA §203’s extension of
§441b’s restrictions on independent corporate expenditures is also overruled.
Oral argument on these issues was held on Sept. 9, 2009. This was the first case
heard by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who replaced Associate Justice David
Souter. The 5-4 ruling was on Jan. 21, 2010.
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Given that two of Bush’s appointments struck down any ban on corporate spending,
some people have suggested that this Supreme Court outcome is a direct result of
the Bush administration’s Supreme Court justice nominations.The Supreme Court’s
ruling seven years ago to uphold the McCain-Feingold legislation was due to the fact
that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor supported the bill’s constitutionality. Since she has
stepped down and was replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, and with the appointment of
the new Chief Justice, John Roberts, the makeup of the court has shifted.The change
in the Supreme Court and the power shift it causes might be used by some as a
possible election issue; some candidates could highlight the ruling in advertisements
and label their opponents to be for big business and against the average American. In
addition, given the public’s dislike of this ruling, some candidates might use it as a
clear example of the importance of the 2012 presidential election, highlighting the
power of the president to choose Supreme Court nominees.
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CITIZENS UNITED’S IMPACT ON THE 2010 MIDTERMS
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision resulted in record
amounts of money spent in the 2010 midterm elections. According to estimates by
the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money in
politics, the total amount of money spent in the midterm elections was about $4
billion. That’s up from $2.85 billion in 2006.
During those midterm elections, 527 organizations had the option, by filing additional
paperwork, to solicit unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations to
spend on independent political efforts. These 527s are required to disclose their
donors. Their ability to gather and then spend unlimited amounts of money in the
midterm elections would not have been allowed in previous elections.
The court decision also allows 501(c)(6)s—groups such as trade organizations and
business leagues, which are funded by payments of member corporations—to not be
required to disclose their donors. Those groups capitalized on the new ability to spend
on independent expenditure campaigns. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance,
spent $32.9 million from its corporate-funded treasury on independent political
communications. That group has a deep roster of corporate members, but it did not
disclose contributors that provided the funding for its political advertising.
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It is this lack of full disclosure that concerns many policymakers and citizen watchdog
groups. Many feel that money spent in elections should be linked with advertisements or
According to a Washington Post–ABC News poll of 1,004 people randomly surveyed,
65 percent “strongly” oppose the ruling.There is little difference by party line: Eighty-
five percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents
oppose the ruling.
Some corporations might choose to set up PACs within their company, while others will
decide not to get involved in elections at all. But corporations with specific legislative
needs that affect their bottom line are expected to be even more proactive in the
upcoming 2012 election cycle.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, 40 percent of outside money in the 2010
midterms came from money that was made possible by the Supreme Court ruling.The
ability for, say, a former longtime party leader to organize, raise unlimited amounts of
money and contribute large amounts to oppose a candidate all without disclosing
donors would not have been allowed before the Supreme Court ruling.These types of
unlimited and undisclosed contributions can very well—and did in some instances—
make or break a race.
Russ Feingold, for instance, a longtime proponent of campaign finance reform and the
co-sponsor and co-author of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (Public Law
170-155), also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, lost his race to millionaire plastics
CEO Ron Johnson, who outspent him four to one with help from outside organizations.
Corporations donated to both Republicans and Democrats. But some did experience
consumer backlash. Last summer,Target Corp. was one of the first companies to test
the 2010 midterm election political waters. It donated campaign contributions to MN
Forward, a newly formed Chamber of Commerce–affiliated group, which in turn used the
campaign funds to back Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.
Target found itself boycotted for the candidate’s anti-gay-marriage stand and his ties to
anti-gay groups.Target made a public apology.
This situation clearly illustrates the difficulties corporations face when their consumers
discover that their money is going for something other than what they expect it to.
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IMPLICATIONS FOR REPUBLICANS
Republicans who tend to have strong ties with corporation and business leaders will
benefit greatly in the upcoming 2012 elections from this ruling. Conservative
Republicans, however, might benefit most in Republican primaries. The ruling still
upholds that corporations, foreign nationals, government contractors or labor
organization treasury funds cannot give directly to a candidate or coordinate with a
campaign committee’s strategy and messaging. But in this age of technology, social
media and fast-paced coverage, the reality is that it doesn’t take much for a
company to copy or mirror a campaign.
IMPLICATIONS FOR DEMOCRATS
Democrats, who usually have more union support, will also benefit. Most Democrats,
however, believe in general that they will be at a disadvantage because big
corporations will pour large amounts of money into expensive media buys, therefore
driving up the cost of prime media buys and drowning out their policy and campaign
messages, making it difficult to get their message out to voters.
On April 29, 2010, U.S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Russ Feingold (D-WI),
Ron Wyden (D-OR), Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Al Franken (D-MN) formally announced
their Senate bill to combat what they believe are dangerous impacts of the Supreme
Court’s decision to allow corporations and other special interests to spend unlimited
sums to influence elections.The legislation (S.3295) is the Democracy Is
Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act, or the DISCLOSE
Act. A bipartisan-supported companion version of the bill, with the same name (HR
5175), was drafted in the House of Representatives by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-
MD), Mike Castle (R-DE), Walter Jones (R-NC) and Robert Brady (D-PA).
“At a time when the public’s fears about the influence of
special interests were already high, the Court’s decision stacks
the deck against the average American even more. Our bill will
follow the money. In cases where corporations try to mask their
activities through shadow groups, we drill down so that ultimate
funder of the expenditure is disclosed. If we don’t act quickly to
confront this ruling, we will have let the Supreme Court
predetermine the outcome of next November’s elections. It won’t
be Republicans or Democrats; it will be Corporate America and
other special interests.”
—U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), co-sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER’S VIEW
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The legislation sought to prevent foreign-owned corporations and government
contractors from spending money on U.S. elections. Schumer, for example, has cited
the governments of Venezuela, which owns the oil company Citgo, and China, which
owns part of several large corporations, as the types of companies he feels should not
be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertisements to affect U.S.
According to Section 102 of the DISCLOSE Act, to close the loophole, the legislation
extends the existing prohibition on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals
to include domestic corporations under the following circumstances:
1. If a foreign national owns 20 percent or more of voting shares in the corporation,
which is modeled after the control test in many states, including Delaware;
2. If a majority of the board of directors are foreign nationals;
3. If one or more foreign nationals have the power to direct, dictate or control the
decision-making of the U.S. subsidiary; or
4. If one or more foreign nationals have the power to direct, dictate or control the
activities with respect to federal, state or local elections.
The concept of a foreign-owned company interfering with U.S. elections makes people
on both sides of the aisle uncomfortable. In fact, a Washington Post-ABC News poll
indicated that 72 percent of people polled, including Democrats, Republicans and non-
party-affiliated voters, would support legislation to curb the Supreme Court ruling.
And 79 percent of respondents disapproved of the ruling, according to a nationwide
poll by Quinnipiac.
In addition, the DISCLOSE Act would ban government contractors and companies
that have received government assistance from making political expenditures—and
also require corporations, unions and other organizations that make political
expenditures to disclose their donors and stand by their ads. It includes strict
reporting timelines and requires disclaimers by senior leaders of corporations, unions
and organizations to identify themselves with their political ads, similar to the
disclaimers required by candidates.
Said Sen. Wyden: “I wish Congress didn’t have to take action to ensure that a
citizen’s voice doesn’t get buried by new and larger mountains of corporate cash; but
that is what our legislation will do. If the Supreme Court wants to treat corporations
as individuals, then we will hold those entities to the same standards of accountability
that we do individuals, which means requiring that CEOs, labor leaders and even
political consultants stand by their ads.”
“the disclosure of campaign-donor information is essential to our democracy. The
absence of transparency will enable special interest groups to bankroll campaign
initiatives while operating under a veil of anonymity. I will continue to press for greater
donor disclosure in the courts, and in Congress, in order to bring in the much-needed
sunlight. We have been unable to enact enhanced disclosure requirements through
Congress. However, we have found that the requirements in existing law have been
significantly loosened by the FEC’s interpretation. The lawsuit I am filing…seeks to restore
the statutory requirement that provides greater disclosure of the donors who provide
funding for electioneering communications. If this standard had been adhered to, much of
the more than $135 million in secret contributions that funded expenditures in the 2010
congressional races would have been disclosed to the public.”
—U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), co-sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN’S VIEW
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On the House side, Van Hollen has used AIG or a big Wall Street firm or other firms
that received Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money as an example of types
of conflicting interest. His point is that if a corporation got federal assistance to be
bailed out, then that company should not be able to spend unlimited amounts of
money because those are no longer corporate funds but federal taxpayers’ money
until the company repays them to the taxpayers.
The legislation passed the House but was one vote short in the Senate; therefore, it
did not get passed in the 111th Congress. In the new 112th Congress, U.S. Sen.
Harry Reid and 11 co-sponsors have introduced Senate bill S.9, the Political
Reform and Gridlock Elimination Act, which includes the DISCLOSE legislation
provisions. The bill has been referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and
Administration. Legislators would like to pass S.9 legislation before the 2012
presidential election cycle. To get it passed, they will have to make it a “voting
issue” and tap into the public’s dislike of the Supreme Court’s ruling, which is
perceived to favor the voices of business over theirs.
The DISCLOSE Act has not been able to be reintroduced in the House. The new
Congress is not expected to act on the legislation, but the public does not seem
happy with the idea of advertisements and political messaging done without their
knowing who is behind the messaging. According to a New York Times/CBS poll,
92 percent of the people polled believe candidates should be legally required to
disclose how much money they raised and where it came from.
On April 21, 2011, Rep. Van Hollen filed a lawsuit against the FEC regulations that
have undermined the campaign finance disclosure requirements established in the
Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold) to require groups that
pay for so-called electioneering communications ads to disclose the donors who
provided funds for them. These disclosure requirements apply to nonprofit
corporations and other groups that conduct outside spending campaigns that
influence federal elections. According to a statement from Van Hollen’s office, the
law requires the disclosure of the identity and contribution amounts of donors who
fund electioneering communications. The FEC, in its regulation implementing the law,
requires disclosure of donors only when the donation “was made for the purpose of
furthering electioneering communications” by the spender. This restriction on
contribution disclosure is not found in the statute. “Congress did not include a ‘state
of mind’ or ‘purpose’ condition tied to ‘furthering’ electioneering communications in
the relevant McCain-Feingold disclosure provision,” said Van Hollen. “The FEC, by
adding this requirement in its regulations, has contravened the plain language and
meaning of the statute and gutted the contribution disclosure requirements for
In addition, the White House has noted that President Obama is considering an
executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose political donations, even to
nonprofit organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A presidential order
would take effect immediately and would affect fundraising for the 2012 elections.
“The Court ruled unconstitutional sections of
federal law that barred corporations and unions from
spending their own money to express their views about
issues and candidates. This was the right decision because
democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some
but for all. As Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority,
concluded: ‘Under our law and our tradition it seems
stranger than fiction for our Government to make
political speech a crime.’”
—U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Republican leader
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL’S VIEW
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Currently, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) tracks campaign finance
donations and spending. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Securities
and Exchange Commission (SEC) will also be involved in tracking such expenditures
when made by public corporations. Under SEC rules, corporations generally must
disclose “major events” to shareholders. According to section 212 of the proposed
DISCLOSE legislation, if a covered organization makes a disbursement for
campaign-related activity, the CEO must file a statement with the FEC certifying
that the expenditure was not made in coordination with a candidate, that funds
designated by the donor that aren’t to be used for campaign-related activity have not
been used for any campaign-related activity, and that the spending has been fully
disclosed and made in compliance with the law.
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The Supreme Court has ruled to allow corporations, even those that are owned by
foreign companies, to spend unlimited amounts of money on airing commercials and
documentaries in support of or opposition to a political candidate. The ability to air
commercials right up to the day of an election will change how candidates and their
campaigns can and need to respond to attack advertisements in print, broadcast and
online, as well as get-out-the-vote strategies.
There is no doubt that there will be more money spent than ever by corporations and
nonprofits in 2012 presidential and congressional primary and general election
advertisements and message campaigns. Corporations should plan ahead and know
how best to get their message or cause heard during these important elections. Many
corporations should be tracking key races for U.S. Congress and Senate and state
races in order to affect primary and general elections. As they develop their
communications outreach strategies, they must be mindful of their tactics so that
they don’t adversely affect their business or create public backlash against their
corporation. In addition, corporations must know the election law and work
independently from candidates’ committees.
This white paper is the latest thought leadership pursuit by Euro RSCG
Worldwide over the past decade (and more) to address issues of national
importance in the United States and how they affect consumers and
In August 2001, Euro RSCG wanted to find out what exactly the
“American way of life” was at the start of a new century, so we asked a
random sample of 500 Americans online, aged 21 to 54, their feelings
about the United States, among other topics. The white paper based on the
data, called “American Audit,” says that in order to understand America, “one must first
understand its citizens—and the dramatic shifts that are helping to reshape the national culture.”
It features not only analysis but also implications for marketers.
Then in April 2010, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and Euro RSCG Life, the public relations arm and
the health-focused communications network of Euro RSCG, commissioned two surveys to try to
gauge the mood of Americans on such hot-button issues as healthcare, the economy, education, jobs
and the political direction of the country. One survey questioned people nationwide; the other polled
residents of the bellwether state of Connecticut (which ultimately saw a Democratic sweep in the
2010 midterm elections, the opposite of the national trend, and thus worthy of our close study). The
resulting “U.S. Mind and Mood Report” shows a new normal: fear and anxiety replacing confidence
and hope. Optimism was out and pessimism was in. To see the data and our implications, please go
to eurorscgpr.com and look under “Brain Food.”
For “American Companies Unlimited,” Euro RSCG Worldwide wanted to help companies understand
their options and the facts about political- and issues-related advertising in the face of a landmark
Supreme Court decision and new legislation. Companies large and small will need to be familiar
with the rules before the 2012 elections.
Through such research and analysis, we are addressing topics that are not only imperative to our
clients and our own growth but are also driving news about the future. The studies are places to
listen and learn. They’re propelling momentum for companies, brands and causes. They’re satisfying
the new value exchange, where consumers want brands that listen, converse and enable them.
Please join us in the conversation.
Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America
200 Madison Avenue, 2nd floor
New York, NY 10016