First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti: Corporate Political Speech In Ballot-Measure Campaigns


As “artificial persons,” corporations are entitled to some of the constitutional rights accorded natural persons. In First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, the Supreme Court confronted the issue whether corporations have a right under the first amendment to spend money to publicize their views on a state constitutional amendment proposal. Political speech traditionally has been accorded a high degree of constitutional protection. In the modern political world, the expenditure of money has been recognized as essential to publicize one’s opinions effectively, and has been accorded the same constitutional protection as political speech. The Bellotti Court was faced with the task of balancing the importance of political speech against the state interests in controlling elections, protecting dissenting shareholders, and avoiding corruption and the appearance of corruption. The case is important because it marks the first time that the Supreme Court has recognized that political speech does not lose its protection merely because its source is a corporation. The opinion’s impact is limited, however, to protecting corporate speech in ballot-measure campaigns.

This Comment begins with a discussion of the Bellotti decision and the cases leading up to it. Next, the Comment examines the competing concerns presented to the Court, including political speech, control over corruption in elections, and protection of dissenting shareholders. Finally, the Comment focuses on the fact that the case arose in the context of a ballot measure to help explain the limited applicability of the Supreme Court’s opinion

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