WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court decided Wednesday that businesses may spend their money to support or oppose candidates in federal elections.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court overturned a ban on such spending, while keeping intact the law that forbids companies from donating funds directly from their treasuries to candidates.
However, businesses can spend what they like on campaign advertising. President Barack Obama said he will seek "a forceful response" to the decision.
The case involved Citizens United, a conservative group that was told by the Federal Elections Commission that it could not provide its documentary about then-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to cable stations.
"Some members of the public might consider Hillary to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation's course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
"Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make."
Stevens was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.
Dissenting were justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas and John Paul Stevens.
Joining in their frustration was Obama, who said the Supreme Court "has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics."
He said oil companies, Wall Street banks and health insurers "drown out the voices of everyday Americans" by lobbying in Washington.
"This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates.
"That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less."
Theodore Olson, a former U.S. Solicitor General who routinely represents litigants before the Supreme Court, represented Citizens United.
"(The) McCain-Feingold (Act of 2002) impermissibly restricted the right of individuals joined together in the corporate form or in a union to engage in political speech when it mattered most--in the period immediately preceding an election," Olson said.
"The Court recognized that permitting widespread participation in the marketplace of ideas will invigorate political discourse, promote public debate on important issues, and, ultimately, strengthen the very foundations of our democracy."