This week the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, issued an opinion with dramatic consequences for federal elections throughout the country and particularly in Nevada. The Court overturned part of a federal law prohibiting corporations, unions and non-profits from using their internal funds to engage in campaign advocacy. Although laws prohibiting corporate, union and non-profit contributions to candidates remain in effect (as do disclosure requirements), these entities are now free to expend unlimited funds to advocate for or against federal candidates.
In Nevada, where United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is headed for a tough reelection bid, this ruling opens the door to extensive privately-funded advertising both for and against his reelection. Expect to see a lot of money spent on advertising in Nevada in the coming months as the fate of the Senate Majority Leader hangs in the balance.
The Citizens United case applies equally to state laws limiting the amounts corporations, unions and non-profits can spend on express advocacy. However, because Nevada law already allows such expenditures, and because even contributions to candidates can be bundled and are therefore not limited, the case will likely not have much of an impact on what is spent on state and local races. But the cost of advertising in state and local races will likely become much more expensive as advertising time is bought up in high profile federal races. And of course, candidates for state and local offices that utilize privately-funded advertising, and the private entities providing that advertising, will still need to be careful to comply with the appropriate disclosure requirements.