U.S. Supreme Court building
U.S. Supreme Court building - 
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Kai Ryssdal: For years, one of the underlying principles of campaign finance law in this country has been that in politics money is speech, which means there are some pretty strong First Amendment protections about who gets to spend how much on political campaigns.

Those protections got a whole lot stronger today with the Supreme Court's ruling in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision, the justices abolished limits on corporate spending in national political races. From Washington, Brett Neely starts us off.

BRETT NEELY: Until today, companies and labor unions could not spend their own money for or against a political candidate. They were limited to passing on contributions from their employees or members. They also could not air issue ads close to elections. The conservative court majority threw out those restrictions on free speech grounds.

Companies and unions can now spend as much cash as they want to support or oppose a candidate through advertising. But the court kept an existing ban on direct contributions to candidates' campaigns.

Today's decision centered on Citizens United, a small conservative advocacy group. It aired an anti-Hillary Clinton documentary in 2008 financed by corporate donors.

On the steps of the Supreme Court this morning, Citizens United head David Bossie was ecstatic.

DAVID BOSSIE: Whether you're an individual, whether you're a corporation or a union, it doesn't matter. You can now participate fully and freely in the election process.

In a written statement this afternoon, President Obama said the court's decision further drowns out the voices of average Americans in politics.

In Washington, I'm Brett Neely for Marketplace.