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First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti

    Brief Fact Summary. State prohibits corporations from spending money on promotions that will endorse or oppose local referendums.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The government may not restrict the topics of speech for corporations.

    Facts. The First National Bank of Boston (Petitioner) is prohibited by state statute from spending “for the purpose of influencing the vote on any question that does not affect the corporation directly.” Petitioner wanted to publicize a view of a constitutional amendment that would allow state legislation to impose graduated tax on income of individuals.

    Issue. Is the state regulation of corporate speech constitutional?

    Held. No. The Court reversed the state supreme court. It is unconstitutional to restrict corporate speech to items that are “materially affecting” its business.

    Dissent. The majority improperly substituted its judgment over the state legislature and drastically departs from prior decisions.

    Discussion. A corporation should not be treated differently than private persons. The corporation may freely discuss government affairs. They do not otherwise control or drown out the voices of individuals.


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