May 31, 2012 / 2:42 AM / 8 years ago

Retired justice says campaign finance ruling made cash king

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens leveled new criticism on Wednesday against the court’s landmark 2010 ruling on campaign financing, saying it had allowed corporations to ramp up spending and non-voters to influence the outcome of elections.

U.S. President Barack Obama awards a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court John Paul Stevens during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Stevens, who dissented from the “Citizens United” ruling, said it had increased the importance of cash in contested elections, opened the floodgates for foreign campaign spending and put corporations or other out-of-state speakers ahead of voters interested in local issues.

The Supreme Court split along conservative-liberal ideological lines in making the 5-4 ruling in 2010, giving corporations the constitutional free-speech right to spend freely to support or oppose candidates in federal elections.

The ruling triggered a massive increase in spending by wealthy individuals and corporations in federal campaigns ahead of this year’s November 6 presidential and congressional elections.

“A rule that opens the floodgates for foreign campaign expenditures will increase the relative importance of out-of-state speakers and minimize the impact of voters’ speech that addresses purely local problems,” Stevens said remarks for a conference in Little Rock hosted by the University of Arkansas.

Stevens, who wrote an impassioned dissent at the time of the ruling, said the court may already be having “second thoughts” about the breadth of the reasoning in the majority opinion.

A text of his remarks was released by the Supreme Court in Washington.

Stevens said he agreed with President Barack Obama’s criticism of the ruling - that it reversed a century of law, that it authorized unlimited election-related expenditure by America’s most powerful interests and that the logic of the opinion extended to money spent by foreign entities.

Obama’s criticism was delivered in his 2010 State of the Union address, with a number of the Supreme Court justices present. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito could be seen mouthing the words “not true” in response to Obama’s comments.

Stevens said that in the future, the court would have to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception to the 2010 ruling to make clear it does not extend to foreign corporations.

He said the fact that corporations had no right to vote should give Congress the power to exclude them from direct participation in the electoral process.

Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by David Brunnstrom

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