Supreme Court affirms ban on soft money

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a challenge by the Republican National Committee that sought to overturn a ban on so-called “soft money” campaign contributions.

By a 6-3 vote, the court affirmed a lower court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the ban, which was enacted in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law of 2002. "Soft money" is unlimited contributions to political parties and was a cornerstone of McCain-Feingold.


The Supreme Court OK'd the ban in 2003, but that was before its landmark decision earlier this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the justices overturned limits on corporate and union campaign spending.

The RNC had hoped to seize on that ruling, made by a more conservative court in 2003, to challenge other aspects of the McCain-Feingold law.

The justices affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling without comment, rejecting a full hearing of the case. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy all dissented and pushed to grant oral arguments for the case. They had also dissented from the 2003 court ruling that upheld the “soft money” ban.

Campaign finance reform advocates cheered the decision.

“This is an extremely important victory that stops the recent serious erosion by the Supreme Court of the nation’s campaign finance laws,” the president of Democracy 21, Fred Wertheimer, said. “The decision is a major victory for those who support anti-corruption laws to protect the integrity of our elections and our government.”

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group said the decision “marks an important shift in a Supreme Court, which has seemed focused on pulling apart the intricate web of our campaign finance laws.”

Republicans expressed their disappointment in the decision.

"I am disappointed that the Supreme Court chose not to hear arguments in Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission. This was an opportunity to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to the First Amendment and to the right of citizens to join together and speak out for causes and candidates they support," said attorney Theodore Olson, who represented the RNC, in a statement.

Democrats sharply criticized the court’s decision in the Citizens United case in January, and they have pushed legislation to blunt the ruling by stiffening disclosure requirements for corporations and unions active in political campaigns. The author of that bill, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), also weighed in against the RNC’s challenge to the soft money prohibition.

-- This story was updated at 3:39 p.m.