Michael Doyle

WASHINGTON: Amid a torrent of campaign spending, a divided Supreme Court on Monday declined to take another look at a controversial 2010 ruling that helped open up the political floodgates.

The courtís decision means the increasingly secretive world of campaign contributions and the unforeseen consequences of the case known as Citizens United will remain intact for the foreseeable future. The decision also exposed a sharp split on the court, where four of the nine justices voiced unhappiness Monday about the current role of money in politics.

ďConsiderable experience since the courtís decision in Citizens United casts grave doubt on the courtís supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so,Ē Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on behalf of the four justices who wanted to revisit the 2010 case.

In its 5-4 ruling two years ago, the court declared that restrictions on independent expenditures violated the First Amendmentís free-speech protections. The ruling meant corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts on ads designed to help or hurt a candidate; the ruling, however, did not change the rules governing contributions made directly to candidates.

The ruling, along with related campaign finance decisions, has enabled political operatives to raise and spend record sums. Groups like American Crossroads have been pumping big bucks into Republican efforts, while Democrats have formed their own groups with names like Priorities USA.

The outside spending by non-party groups in this election cycle already has exceeded $160 million. The largest group so far, a ďsuper PACĒ called Restore our Future, has spent more than $53 million in support of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Though not all of the enhanced fundraising stems directly from the Citizens United ruling, the case has become shorthand for unfettered campaign donations and spending.

The potential opportunity to revisit Citizens United arose because last year, in an extraordinary challenge to the high courtís authority, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a long-standing state campaign finance law that banned corporate spending on elections. The state ban dates back to 1912, when it was imposed to counteract the clout of Montanaís powerful copper industry. The state ruling essentially dismissed the U.S. Supreme Courtís commands, which is something the Supreme Court frowns upon.

On Monday, in its unsigned decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Montana courtís actions.