Supreme Court justices are considering whether corporations have the right to spend unlimited sums of money to influence American elections.
And if they do, who’s going to enforce the laws?
The answer to that question, according to the legal experts who are leading the court’s deliberations, is likely to be Citizens United, the landmark 2012 ruling by a 5-4 court that opened the door for corporations to spend unrestricted sums of their own money to buy and control political campaigns.
If the justices decide to take up the issue, it would give corporations an unprecedented and potentially unprecedented amount of power over how American elections are run.
That’s because the majority of the justices who voted to overturn Citizens United are conservative, liberal or both.
So the issue is particularly urgent now, as the country struggles to balance the competing demands of democracy and corporate power.
The ruling will impact a range of things.
It could have profound ramifications for how Americans elect their presidents, whether corporations are allowed to spend money on electioneering and how they are able to spend that money in ways that are not disclosed to voters.
The justices are weighing whether to overturn a 2012 Supreme Court decision, which says that corporations have no First Amendment right to make political expenditures.
In doing so, the justices are rejecting an argument that corporations are “people” and can freely express political views in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.
That would leave the courts to determine what type of protections corporations have against First Amendment restrictions.
The Citizens United ruling also opens the door to other new rules.
It opens the possibility that companies can donate unlimited amounts to candidates and political action committees, as long as the donor has disclosed that they are giving to a candidate or party.
Corporations could also give to groups that support or oppose candidates or political parties.
But that’s only one aspect of the ruling.
It also means that corporations, unlike other groups, have no right to campaign independently.
Corporators have to pay taxes on the money they give, and the courts are weighing a constitutional provision that allows corporations to withhold tax from those contributions.
The ruling would mean that corporations could effectively hide their political spending from voters.
And it would allow companies to engage in some campaign speech without disclosing it to the public.
The potential impact on Americans is enormous.
Corporation lobbyists say that their political activities are essential to their ability to operate.
In the 2012 election, the National Federation of Independent Businesses spent more than $400 million to influence the outcome of the election, according the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The Chamber of Commerce spent about $35 million.
A large number of corporations also support candidates who support them.
“If you have a business, you can say, ‘I’m not going to tell the people who are my employees about this, because that could influence how they vote,'” said Dan Kois, a partner at the firm Kois & Loeb.
The corporate advocacy group Public Citizen, which has been pushing for Citizens United’s overturning, estimates that it could cost the United States $2 trillion over the next decade.
The groups estimate that corporations would spend nearly $1.7 trillion in 2012.
The impact of this ruling on elections is “extremely consequential,” said Kois.
But corporations also say that the court is being too lenient in applying the law.
In 2012, the court struck down a campaign finance provision in a Colorado law that prohibited corporations from giving unlimited contributions to candidates.
The Supreme Court has said it will not revisit the case.
The case was appealed, but the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Colorado law had been constitutional, meaning the issue was not before the court.
“They are trying to pass a law that is so vague that they’re basically saying you can’t do anything about it,” said Tom Stock, a professor of law at the University of Richmond and former chief counsel of the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
“I think the fact that they’ve allowed the corporations to make this argument shows that they really do want to give corporations a lot more power in elections,” he said.
But the justices could not agree to let corporations spend unlimited amounts on elections.
That means the justices would have to decide how much corporations can spend, how much they must disclose, and whether they can take steps to stop them.
The Supreme Court did not address the issue of disclosure during its oral arguments on Tuesday.
But the justices may have to revisit it if they decide to hear the case in the coming weeks.
The court could also take up that question later this year.
“There are some concerns about what that decision would mean,” said Adam Levitan, a law professor at the Loyola Law School.
“I think there are some important issues, but I don’t think we’ve really heard about the question yet.”
It’s possible that the justices will make a different decision on the question of disclosure than they did on the issue in the case of Citizens United.
And even if the court does not address disclosure, it could