Important New Campaign Finance Case To Be Decided by the U.S. Supreme Court:

It's Citizens United v. FEC, which the Court just agreed to hear. Here's SCOTUSblog's summary:

The new campaign finance case involves a plea by a conservative advocacy group, Citizens United, to create a new exception to a 2002 law's ban on radio or TV ads that corporations and labor unions air close to election time, so that the ban would not apply to a feature-length movie aimed at a candidate for President or for Congress. The appeal also urges the Court to strike down the 2002 law's disclosure requirement for election-season broadcast ads when those ads are not subject to the ban itself. And it seeks to test whether a 2003 Supreme Court decision bars all challenges to the law's disclosure requirements, even if the challenge is an as-applied claim.

The ban at issue in the case is the so-called "electioneering communications" provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. It bars corporations (including non-profit firms) and labor unions from using their own treasury funds to finance ads naming a federal candidate, if the ad appears on radio or TV 30 days before a primary election or nominating convention or 60 days before a general election.

Citizens United had prepared a film, titled "Hillary: The Movie," and it released it to theaters and for store sales on DVD. It did not go forward with plans to put out the movie in TV-on-demand access on cable TV, because it feared the FEC would apply the ad ban to it. A federal District Court ruled that the movie about Sen. Clinton was the kind of radio and TV broadcast that ran afoul of the ban, interpreting it as a call to voters not to support her because she was unfit for the presidency. Citizens United also prepared a similar critical film about Sen. Barack Obama, titled "Hype: The Obama Effect," and it, too, was released during the campaign.

Even though the presidential and congressional elections this year are over, Citizens United's appeal to the Supreme Court appears to be still a live one because the group has indicated it plans to prepare and air such films in future campaigns. The FEC did not contend that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and on Friday the Court simply "noted probable jurisdiction," indicating that it agreed it had authority to decide the case.

The BCRA provisions requiring disclosure, all being challenged in the appeal, require any corporation or union spending more than $10,000 a year to produce or air the kind of ad covered by the law must reveal to the FEC the names and addresses of anyone contributing more than $1,000 for the ad. Another provision requires that, if an ad is not authorized by a candidate or political committee, the broadcast must also say who is responsible for its content, and provide the name and address of the group behind the ad.

The District Court said the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in McConnell v. FEC, upholding many of the provisions in the BCRA law, upheld those disclosure requirements even if a particular radio or TV ad would not be banned under that law, and thus no new challenges to these requirements were allowed.

The jurisdictional statement asking the Court to agree to hear the case (what would be a certiorari petition if this were a certiorari case, but this one is a statutory direct appeal) is here. The FEC's response is here.