Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce
494 U.S. 652 (1990)

  • The Michigan Campaign Finance Act (§54(1)) prohibited corporations from using corporate funds to contribute to candidates in State elections.
  • Michigan business, led by the Chamber of Commerce, sued claiming that the law was an unconstitutional violation of the 1st Amendment.
  • The Trial Court found the law to be unconstitutional. Michigan appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The Chamber of Commerce appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed and found the law to be constitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that commercial speech is protected by the 1st Amendment, but not as much as other forms of speech.
    • The Court found the State had a compelling government interest in maintaining integrity of the political process, and “corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections.”
    • The Court found that the law was narrowly tailored enough to be constitutional because it allowed corporations to make donations through independent, segregated funds.
  • Contrast this case with First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (435 U.S. 765 (1978)), which came to pretty much the opposite decision.