When President Obama in his 2010 State of the Union speech criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, he got a lot of conservative flak. The President had said, among other things, that the 5-4 decision recognizing that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money in federal elections overturned a 100-year-old campaign finance law.
Thus, Bill Maurer, writing in the Weekly Standard, said:
President Obama has been the most notable proponent of this myth. In the State of the Union he said that Citizens United “reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests . . . to spend without limit in our elections.” In response, Justice Alito was seen shaking his head and mouthing the words “not true.” Alito was right.
While federal law has indeed prohibited corporations from directly contributing to federal candidates since 1907, that portion of the law was not at issue in Citizens United. It remains the law of the land. Direct corporate contributions to candidates are still banned.
It was a fair point, though there is some uncertainty as to how the 1907 law was interpreted before the 1940s, when it expressly banned not just corporate contributions to candidates but corporate and labor union independent spending as well. But now a federal district judge has overturned the direct contribution ban too, and done so against controlling Supreme Court precedent to the contrary.