Dykema's Campaign Finance Team anticipates that the United States Supreme Court will decide a case within the next few weeks with implications for every Michigan corporation. The Supreme Court is considering in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission whether to overrule Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 case that upheld Michigan's ban against corporations making independent campaign expenditures for or against political candidates. Prior to oral argument last September, Dykema filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Many experts speculate that the Court may deem the corporate expenditure ban in Michigan's campaign finance law unconstitutional, thereby permitting corporations to independently spend treasury funds in support or opposition to political candidates. In the context of the upcoming 2010 elections, this means that corporations may be permitted to directly pay for advertisements, mailers, phone banks, and other material supporting or opposing candidates for governor, attorney general, state senate, state house, and many other offices.
The Citizens United case represents a potentially significant change in how corporations are allowed to participate in the political process. If Austin is overturned, an entirely new option for political involvement will be permitted in Michigan and other states. With all statewide and numerous other offices in play in Michigan's 2010 elections, we anticipate that many corporations may want to reevaluate their role in supporting or opposing candidates this year. Those corporations will need to carefully structure corporate campaign strategies to avoid direct contributions or coordination of expenditures.