Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce - Wikipedia

Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce
Argued October 31, 1989
Decided March 27, 1990
Full case nameAustin, Michigan Secretary of State, et al. v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce
Citations494 U.S. 652 (more)
110 S. Ct. 1391; 108 L. Ed. 2d 652; 1990 U.S. LEXIS 1665; 58 U.S.L.W. 4371
The Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which prohibited corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates in elections, did not violate the First or the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Case opinions
MajorityMarshall, joined by Rehnquist, Brennan, White, Blackmun, Stevens
DissentKennedy, joined by O'Connor, Scalia
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV
Overruled by
Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010)

Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), is a United States corporate law case of the Supreme Court of the United States holding that the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which prohibited corporations from using treasury money to make independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates in elections, did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court upheld the restriction on corporate speech, stating, "Corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections"; however, the Michigan law still allowed the corporation to make such expenditures from a segregated fund.


The Michigan Campaign Finance Act banned corporations from spending treasury money on "independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates in elections for state offices." The Act had one loophole-if a corporation had an independent fund solely used for political purposes the law did not apply. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce sought to use its general funds to publish an advertisement in a local newspaper to support a candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives,[1]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Louis J. Caruso, Lansing, Michigan, argued on the side of the appellants (Austin). Richard D. McLellan, Lansing, Michigan, argued for the respondent (Michigan Chamber of Commerce).[2]

In an opinion by Justice Marshall, the Court held the Act did not violate the First or the Fourteenth Amendments. The Court recognized a state's compelling interest in combating a "different type of corruption in the political arena: the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

Marshall concluded by noting the importance of the Act:

Michigan identified as a serious danger the significant possibility that corporate political expenditures will undermine the integrity of the political process, and it has implemented a narrowly tailored solution to that problem. By requiring corporations to make all independent political expenditures through a separate fund made up of money solicited expressly for political purposes, the Michigan Campaign Finance Act reduces the threat that huge corporate treasuries amassed with the aid of favorable state laws will be used to influence unfairly the outcome of elections.

Marshall was joined in the majority opinion by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices William Brennan, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens. Justice Kennedy wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and O'Connor.

Subsequent developments[edit]

The decision was overruled by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010),[3][4] ruling that the First Amendment right of free speech applied to corporations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerece". Oyez: Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  2. ^ "494 U.S. 652". Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2011-01-17.
  3. ^ Hasen, Richard L. (2010-01-21). "Money Grubbers: The Supreme Court kills campaign finance reform". Slate.
  4. ^ Ryan, Daniel P. (2010). "Citizens United, Austin, and the Unconstitutionality of MCL Section 169.254(1)". Rochester, NY. SSRN 2112556. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

External links[edit]