352 U.S. 567 (1957), 44, United States v. Auto Workers

Docket Nº:No. 44
Citation:352 U.S. 567, 77 S.Ct. 529, 1 L.Ed.2d 563
Party Name:United States v. Auto Workers
Case Date:March 11, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 567

352 U.S. 567 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 529, 1 L.Ed.2d 563

United States


Auto Workers

No. 44

United States Supreme Court

March 11, 1957

Argued December 3-4, 1956




18 U.S.C. § 610 prohibits any corporation or labor organization from making "a contribution or expenditure in connection with" any election for federal office. An indictment of appellee, a labor organization, under this section charged appellee with having used union dues to sponsor commercial television broadcasts designed to influence the electorate to select certain candidates for Congress in connection with the 1954 elections. The District Court dismissed the indictment as not alleging a statutory offense. On appeal to this Court under the Criminal Appeals Act, held: the judgment of dismissal is reversed. Pp. 568-593.

(a) On review under the Criminal Appeals Act of a district court judgment dismissing an indictment on the basis of statutory interpretation, this Court must take the indictment as it was construed by the district judge. P. 584.

(b) It was to embrace precisely the kind of indirect contributions alleged in the indictment that Congress amended the section to proscribe "expenditures." P. 585.

(c) The Senate and House committee reports and the Senate debate support the conclusion that the section was understood to proscribe the expenditure of union dues to pay for commercial broadcasts that are designed to urge the public to elect a certain candidate or party. Pp. 585-587.

(d) United State v. CIO, 335 U.S. 106, distinguished. Pp. 588-589.

(e) In the circumstances of this case, the Court does not pass upon the constitutional issues. Pp. 589-593.

138 F.Supp. 53 reversed and remanded.

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FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issues tendered in this case are the construction and, ultimately, the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 610, an Act of Congress that prohibits [77 S.Ct. 530] corporations and labor organizations from making "a contribution or expenditure in connection with" any election for federal office. This is a direct appeal by the Government from a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissing a four-count indictment that charged appellee, a labor organization, with having made expenditures in violation of that law. Appellee had moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds (1) that it failed to state an offense under the statute and (2) that the provisions of the statute "on their face and as construed and applied" are unconstitutional. The district judge held that the indictment did not allege a statutory offense, and that he was therefore not required to rule upon the constitutional questions presented. 138 F.Supp. 53. The case came here, 351 U.S. 904, under the Criminal Appeals Act of 1907, as amended, 18 U.S.C. § 3731.

It is desirable at the outset to quote the statute in its entirety:

It is unlawful for any national bank, or any corporation organized by authority of any law of

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Congress, to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, or for any corporation whatever, or any labor organization to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election at which Presidential and Vice Presidential electors or a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner to Congress are to be voted for, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any of the foregoing offices, or for any candidate, political committee, or other person to accept or receive any contribution prohibited by this section.

Every corporation or labor organization which makes any contribution or expenditure in violation of this section shall be fined not more than $5,000; and every officer or director of any corporation, or officer of any labor organization, who consents to any contribution or expenditure by the corporation or labor organization, as the case may be, and any person who accepts or receives any contribution, in violation of this section, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

For the purposes of this section, "labor organization" means any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exist for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes,

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wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.

18 U.S.C. § 610, taken from the Act of June 23, 1947, 61 Stat. 136, 159.

Appreciation of the circumstances that begot this statute is necessary for its understanding, and understanding of it is necessary for adjudication of the legal problems before us. Speaking broadly, what is involved here is the integrity of our electoral process, and, not less, the responsibility of the individual citizen for the successful functioning of that process. This case thus raises issues not less than basic to a democratic society.

The concentration of wealth consequent upon the industrial expansion in the post-Civil War era had profound implications for American life. The impact of the abuses resulting from this [77 S.Ct. 531] concentration gradually made itself felt by a rising tide of reform protest in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The Sherman Law was a response to the felt threat to economic freedom created by enormous industrial combines. The income tax law of 1894 reflected congressional concern over the growing disparity of income between the many and the few.

No less lively, although slower to evoke federal action, was popular feeling that aggregated capital unduly influenced politics, an influence not stopping short of corruption. The matter is not exaggerated by two leading historians:

The nation was fabulously rich, but its wealth was gravitating rapidly into the hands of a small portion of the population, and the power of wealth threatened to undermine the political integrity of the Republic.

2 Morison and Commager, The Growth of the American Republic (4th ed. 1950) 355. In the '90's, many States passed laws requiring candidates for office and their political committees to make public

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the sources and amounts of contributions to their campaign funds and the recipients and amounts of their campaign expenditures. The theory behind these laws was that the spotlight of publicity would discourage corporations from making political contributions, and would thereby end their control over party policies. But these state publicity laws either became dead letters or were found to be futile. As early as 1894, the sober-minded Elihu Root saw the need for more effective legislation. He urged the Constitutional Convention of the State of New York to prohibit political contributions by corporations:

The idea is to prevent . . . the great railroad companies, the great insurance companies, the great telephone companies, the great aggregations of wealth from using their corporate funds, directly or indirectly, to send members of the legislature to these halls in order to vote for their protection and the advancement of their interests as against those of the public. It strikes at a constantly growing evil which has done more to shake the confidence of the plain people of small means of this country in our political institutions than any other practice which has ever obtained since the foundation of our Government. And I believe that the time has come when something ought to be done to put a check to the giving of $50,000 or $100,000 by a great corporation toward political purposes upon the understanding that a debt is created from a political party to it.

Quoted in Hearings before House Committee on Elections, 59th Cong., 1st Sess. 12; see Root, Addresses on Government and Citizenship (Bacon and Scott ed. 1916) 143.

Concern over the size and source of campaign funds so actively entered the presidential campaign of 1904

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that it crystalized popular sentiment for federal action to purge national politics of what was conceived to be the pernicious influence of "big money" campaign contributions. A few days after the election of 1904, the defeated candidate for the presidency said:

The greatest moral question which now confronts us is, Shall the trusts and corporations be prevented from contributing money to control or aid in controlling elections?

Quoted, Hearings, supra, at 56. President Theodore Roosevelt quickly responded to this national mood. In his annual message to Congress on December 5, 1905, he recommended that:

All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any [77 S.Ct. 532] political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders' money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts.

40 Cong.Rec. 96.

Grist was added to the reformers' mill by the investigation of the great life insurance companies conducted by the Joint Committee of the New York Legislature, the Armstrong Committee, under the guidance of Charles Evans Hughes. The Committee's report, filed early in 1906, revealed that one insurance company alone had contributed...

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