Citizen Power Campaign Survives Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United appears to leave the Citizen Power Campaign unscathed.  In Citizens United, the Court overturned limits on corporate political expenditures.  In doing so, it overruled prior decisions sanctioning bans on corporate expenditures.  The decision restores earlier precedents forbidding such bans.  Nevertheless, it appears that the Citizen Power Initiative survives constitutional muster.

The Court held unconstitutional the portions of McCain-Feingold prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that is an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate. The court held that these corporate expenditure bans violated the First Amendment’s free speech protections.  The court overruled the earlier Austin decision, wherein the court had abandoned earlier precedents forbidding such bans.

The Citizens United decision appears to leave the Citizen Power Initiative unscathed.  The Citizen Power Initiative prohibits public employee unions from using forced member dues for politics (and the state from withholding political contributions from state and local worker paychecks).  The same Supreme Court majority in Citizens United previously upheld limits like the Citizen Power Initiative.  In considering such limits, the court held in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association that such measures are not bans on political speech, so long as the unions are allowed to solicit voluntary member donations.  The court reasoned that such measures leave public employee unions free to engage in speech as they see fit. They are simply are barred from enlisting the State in support of that endeavor.  Such measures may be justified to avoid the reality or appearance of government favoritism or entanglement with partisan politics.

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