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:
judgment of dismissal is reversed. Pp. 352 U. S.
(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. 352 U. S.
(b) It was to embrace precisely the kind of indirect
contributions alleged in the indictment that Congress amended the
section to proscribe "expenditures." P. 352 U. S.
(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. 352 U. S.
(d) United State v. CIO, 335 U.
, distinguished. Pp. 352 U. S.
(e) In the circumstances of this case, the Court does not pass
upon the constitutional issues. Pp. 352 U. S.
reversed and remanded.
Page 352 U. S. 568
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 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.
. 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
"It is unlawful for any national bank, or any corporation
organized by authority of any law of
Page 352 U. S. 569
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
"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,
Page 352 U. S. 570
wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of
18 U.S.C. § 610, taken from the Act of June 23, 1947, 61 Stat.
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
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
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
Page 352 U. S. 571
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
Page 352 U. S. 572
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
"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 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 almost $50,000 to a national campaign committee in
1904, and had given substantial amounts in preceding presidential
campaigns. The Committee concluded:
"Contributions by insurance corporations for political purposes
should be strictly forbidden. Neither executive officers nor
directors should be allowed to use the moneys paid for purposes of
insurance in support of political candidates or platforms. . .
Page 352 U. S. 573
Whether made for the purpose of supporting political views or
with the desire to obtain protection for the corporation, these
contributions have been wholly unjustifiable. In the one case,
executive officers have sought to impose their political views upon
a constituency of divergent convictions, and, in the other, they
have been guilty of a serious offense against public morals. The
frank admission that moneys have been obtained for use in State
campaigns upon the expectation that candidates thus aided in their
election would support the interests of the companies has exposed
both those who solicited the contributions and those who made them
to severe and just condemnation."
Report of the Joint Committee of the Senate and Assembly of the
State of New York Appointed to Investigate the Affairs of Life
Insurance Companies 397 (1906).
Less than a month later, the Committee on Elections of the House
of Representatives began considering a number of proposals designed
to cleanse the political process. Some bills prohibited political
contributions by certain classes of corporations; some merely
required disclosure of contributions; and others made bribery at
elections a federal crime. The feeling of articulate reform groups
was reflected at a public hearing held by the Committee. Perry
Belmont, leader of a nationwide organization advocating a federal
publicity bill, stated:
". . . this thing has come to the breaking point. We have had
enough of it. We don't want any more secret purchase of
organizations, which nullifies platforms, nullifies political
utterances and the pledges made by political leaders in and out of
Hearings before House Committee on Elections, 59th Cong., 1st
Page 352 U. S. 574
This view found strong support in the testimony of Samuel
Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, who said,
with respect to the publicity bill:
"Whether this bill meets all of the needs may be questioned;
that is open to discussion; but the necessity for some law upon the
subject is patent to every man who hopes for the maintenance of the
institutions under which we live. It is doubtful to my mind if the
contributions and expenditures of vast sums of money in the
nominations and elections for our public offices can continue to
increase without endangering the endurance of our Republic in its
purity and in its essence."
". . . If the interests of any people are threatened by
corruption in our public life or corruption in elections, surely it
must of necessity be those, that large class of people, whom we for
convenience term the wage workers."
"I am not in a mood, and never am, to indulge in denunciations
or criticism, but it does come to me sometimes that one of the
reasons for the absence of legislation of a liberal or sympathetic
or just character, so far as it affects the interest of the wage
earners of America, can be fairly well traced with the growth of
the corruption funds and the influences that are in operation
during elections and campaigns. . . . I am under the impression
that the patience of the American workingmen is about exhausted
". . . [I]f we are really determined that our elections shall be
free from the power of money and its lavish use and expenditure
without an accounting to the conscience and the judgment of the
people of America, we will have to pass some measure of this
Page 352 U. S. 575
President Roosevelt's annual message of 1906 listed as the first
item of congressional business a law prohibiting political
contributions by corporations. 41 Cong.Rec. 22. Shortly thereafter,
in 1907, Congress provided:
"That it shall be unlawful for any national bank, or any
corporation organized by authority of any laws of Congress, to make
a money contribution in connection with any election to any
political office. It shall also be unlawful for any corporation
whatever to make a money contribution in connection with any
election at which Presidential and Vice-Presidential electors or a
Representative in Congress is to be voted for or any election by
any State legislature of a United States Senator."
34 Stat. 864. As the historical background of this statute
indicates, its aim was not merely to prevent the subversion of the
integrity of the electoral process. Its underlying philosophy was
to sustain the active, alert responsibility of the individual
citizen in a democracy for the wise conduct of government.
This Act of 1907 was merely the first concrete manifestation of
a continuing congressional concern for elections "free from the
power of money." (See
statement of Samuel Gompers,
) The 1909 Congress witnessed unsuccessful attempts
to amend the Act to proscribe the contribution of anything of value
and to extend its application to the election of state
legislatures. The Congress of 1910 translated popular demand for
further curbs upon the political power of wealth into a publicity
law that required committees operating to influence the results of
congressional elections in two or more States to report all
contributions and disbursements and to identify contributors and
recipients of substantial sums. That law also required persons who
spent more than $50 annually
Page 352 U. S. 576
for the purpose of influencing congressional elections in more
than one State to report those expenditures if they were not made
through a political committee. 36 Stat. 822. At the next session,
that Act was extended to require all candidates for the Senate and
the House of Representatives to make detailed reports with respect
to both nominating and election campaigns. The amendment also
placed maximum limits on the amounts that congressional candidates
could spend in seeking nomination and election, and forbade them
from promising employment for the purpose of obtaining support. 37
Stat. 25. And, in 1918, Congress made it unlawful either to offer
or to solicit anything of value to influence voting. 40 Stat.
This Court's decision in Newberry v. United States,
256 U. S. 232
invalidating federal regulation of Senate primary elections, led to
the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925, 43 Stat. 1070, a
comprehensive revision of existing legislation. The debates
preceding that Act's passage reveal an attitude important to an
understanding of the course of this legislation. Thus, Senator
Robinson, one of the leaders of the Senate, said:
"We all know . . . that one of the great political evils of the
time is the apparent hold on political parties which business
interests and certain organizations seek and sometimes obtain by
reason of liberal campaign contributions. Many believe that when an
individual or association of individuals makes large contributions
for the purpose of aiding candidates of political parties in
winning the elections, they expect, and sometimes demand, and,
occasionally, at least, receive, consideration by the beneficiaries
of their contributions which not infrequently is harmful to the
general public interest. It is unquestionably
Page 352 U. S. 577
an evil which ought to be dealt with, and dealt with
intelligently and effectively."
65 Cong.Rec. 9507-9508. One of the means chosen by Congress to
deal with this evil was § 313 of the 1925 Act, which strengthened
the 1907 statute (1) by changing the phrase "money contribution" to
"contribution" (§ 302(d) defined "contribution" broadly); (2) by
extending the prohibition on corporate contributions to the
election to Congress of Delegates and Resident Commissioners; and
(3) by penalizing the recipient of any forbidden contribution as
well as the contributor.
When, in 1940, Congress moved to extend the Hatch Act, 53 Stat.
1147, which was designed to free the political process of the
abuses deemed to accompany the operation of a vast civil
administration, its reforming zeal also led Congress to place
further restrictions upon the political potentialities of wealth.
Section 20 of the law amending the Hatch Act made it unlawful for
any "political committee," as defined in the Act of 1925, to
receive contributions of more than $3,000,000 or to make
expenditures of more than that amount in any calendar year. And §
13 made it unlawful
"for any person, directly or indirectly, to make contributions
in an aggregate amount in excess of $5,000, during any calendar
year, or in connection with any campaign for nomination or
election, to or on behalf of any candidate for an elective Federal
or any committee supporting such a candidate. The term "person"
was defined to include any committee, association, organization or
other group of persons. 54 Stat. 767. In offering § 13 from the
Senate floor, Senator Bankhead said:
"We all know that money is the chief source of corruption. We
all know that large contributions
Page 352 U. S. 578
to political campaigns not only put the political party under
obligation to the large contributors, who demand pay in the way of
legislation, but we also know that large sums of money are used for
the purpose of conducting expensive campaigns through the
newspapers and over the radio; in the publication of all sorts of
literature, true and untrue; and for the purpose of paying the
expenses of campaigners sent out into the country to spread
propaganda, both true and untrue."
86 Cong.Rec. 2720.
The need for unprecedented economic mobilization propelled by
World War II enormously stimulated the power of organized labor and
soon aroused consciousness of its power outside its ranks. Wartime
strikes gave rise to fears of the new concentration of power
represented by the gains of trade unionism. And so the belief grew
that, just as the great corporations had made huge political
contributions to influence governmental action or inaction, whether
consciously or unconsciously, the powerful unions were pursuing a
similar course, and with the same untoward consequences for the
democratic process. Thus, in 1943, when Congress passed the
Smith-Connally Act to secure defense production against work
stoppages, contained therein was a provision extending to labor
organizations, for the duration of the war, § 313 of the Corrupt
Practices Act. 57 Stat. 163, 167. The testimony of Congressman
Landis, author of this measure, before a subcommittee of the House
Committee on Labor makes plain the dominant concern that evoked
"The fact that a hearing has been granted is a high tribute to
the ability of the Labor Committee to recognize the fact that
public opinion toward the conduct of labor unions is rapidly
undergoing a change. The public thinks, and has a right to think,
that labor unions, as public institutions, should be
Page 352 U. S. 579
granted the same rights, and no greater rights, than any other
public group. My bill seeks to put labor unions on exactly the same
basis, insofar as their financial activities are concerned, as
corporations have been on for many years."
"* * * *"
". . . One of the matters upon which I sensed that the public
was taking a stand opposite to that of labor leaders was the
question of the handling of funds of labor organizations. The
public was aroused by many rumors of huge war chests being
maintained by labor unions, of enormous fees and dues being
extorted from war workers, of political contributions to parties
and candidates which later were held as clubs over the head of high
"* * * *"
". . . The source of much of the national trouble today in the
coal strike situation is that ill advised political contribution of
another day [referring, apparently, to the reported contribution of
over $400,000 by the United Mine Workers in the 1936 Campaign,
S.Rep.No. 151, 75th Cong., 1st Sess.]. If the
provision of my bill against such an activity has [sic
been in force when that contribution was made, the Nation, the
administration, and the labor unions would be better off."
Hearings before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Labor
on H.R. 804 and H.R. 1483, 78th Cong., 1st Sess. 1, 2, 4.
Despite § 313's wartime application to labor organizations,
Congress was advised of enormous financial outlays said to have
been made by some unions in connection with the national elections
of 1944. The Senate's Special Committee on Campaign Expenditures
investigated, inter alia,
the role of the Political Action
Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The
Page 352 U. S. 580
found "no clear-cut violation of the Corrupt Practices Act on
the part of the Political Action Committee" on the ground that it
had made direct contributions only to candidates and political
committees involved in state and local elections and federal
primaries, to which the Act did not apply, and had limited its
participation in federal elections to political "expenditures," as
distinguished from "contributions" to candidates or committees.
S.Rep.No.101, 79th Cong., 1st Sess. 23. The Committee also
investigated, on complaint of Senator Taft, the Ohio CIO Council's
distribution to the public at large of 200,000 copies of a pamphlet
opposing the reelection of Senator Taft and supporting his rival.
In response to the CIO's assertion that this was not a proscribed
"contribution," but merely an "expenditure of its own funds to
state its position to the world, exercising its right of free
speech . . . ," the Committee requested the Department of Justice
to bring a test case on these facts. Id.
at 59. It also
recommended extension of § 313 to cover primary campaigns and
nominating conventions. Id.
at 81. A minority of the
Committee, Senators Ball and Ferguson, advocated further amendment
of § 313 to proscribe "expenditures" as well as "contributions" in
order to avoid the possibility of emasculation of the statutory
policy through a narrow judicial construction of "contributions."
The 1945 Report of the House Special Committee to Investigate
Campaign Expenditures expressed concern over the vast amounts that
some labor organizations were devoting to politics:
"The scale of operations of some of these organizations is
impressive. Without exception, they operate on a nationwide basis;
and many of them have affiliated local organizations. One was found
to have an annual budget for 'educational' work approximating
Page 352 U. S. 581
$1,500,000, and among other things regularly supplies over 500
radio stations with 'briefs for broadcasters.' Another, with an
annual budget of over $300,000 for political 'education,' has
distributed some 80,000,000 pieces of literature, including a
quarter million copies of one article. Another, representing an
organized labor membership of 5,000,000, has raised $700,000 for
its national organizations in union contributions for political
'education' in a few months, and a great deal more has been raised
for the same purpose and expended by its local organizations."
H.R.Rep. No. 2093, 78th Cong., 2d Sess. 3. Like the Senate
Committee, it advocated extension of § 313 to primaries and
nominating conventions, id.
at 9, and noted the existence
of a controversy over the scope of "contribution." Id.
11. The following year, the House Committee made a further study of
the activities of organizations attempting to influence the outcome
of federal elections. It found that the Brotherhood of Railway
Trainmen and other groups employed professional political
organizers, sponsored partisan radio programs, and distributed
campaign literature. H.R.Rep. No. 2739, 79th Cong., 2d Sess. 36-37.
It concluded that:
"The intent and purpose of the provision of the act prohibiting
any corporation or labor organization making any contribution in
connection with any election would be wholly defeated if it were
assumed that the term 'making any contribution' related only to the
donating of money directly to a candidate, and excluded the vast
expenditures of money in the activities herein shown to be engaged
in extensively. Of what avail would a law be to prohibit the
contributing direct to a candidate and yet permit the expenditure
of large sums in his behalf? "
Page 352 U. S. 582
"The committee is firmly convinced, after a thorough study of
the provisions of the act, the legislative history of the same, and
the debates on the said provisions when it was pending before the
House, that the act was intended to prohibit such
Accordingly, to prevent further evasion of the statutory policy,
the Committee attached to its recommendation that the prohibition
of contributions by labor organizations be made permanent the
additional proposal that the statute
"be clarified so as to specifically provide that expenditures of
money for salaries to organizers, purchase of radio time, and other
expenditures by the prohibited organizations in connection with
elections, constitute violations of the provisions of said section,
whether or not said expenditures are with or without the knowledge
or consent of the candidates."
at 46. (Italics omitted.) Early in 1947, the
Special Committee to Investigate Senatorial Campaign Expenditures
in the 1946 elections, the Ellender Committee, urged similar action
to "plug the existing loophole," S.Rep. No. 1, Part 2, 80th Cong.,
1st Sess. 38-39, and Senator Ellender introduced a bill to that
Shortly thereafter, Congress again acted to protect the
political process from what it deemed to be the corroding effect of
money employed in elections by aggregated power. Section 304 of the
labor bill introduced into the House by Representative Hartley in
1947, like the Ellender bill, embodied the changes recommended in
the reports of the Senate and House Committees on Campaign
Expenditures. It sought to amend § 313 of the Corrupt Practices Act
to proscribe any "expenditure" as well
Page 352 U. S. 583
as "any contribution," to make permanent § 313's application to
labor organizations and to extend its coverage to federal primaries
and nominating conventions. The Report of the House Committee and
Education and Labor, which considered and approved the Hartley
bill, merely summarized § 304, H.R.Rep. No. 245, 80th Cong., 1st
Sess. 46, and this section gave rise to little debate in the House.
93 Cong.Rec. 3428, 3522. Because no similar measure
was in the labor bill introduced by Senator Taft, the Senate as a
whole did not consider the provisions of § 304 until they had been
adopted by the Conference Committee. In explaining § 304 to his
colleagues, Senator Taft, who was one of the conferees, said:
"I may say that the amendment is in exactly the same words which
were recommended by the Ellender committee, which investigated
expenditures by Senators in the last election. . . . In this
instance, the words of the Smith-Connally Act have been somewhat
changed in effect so as to plug up a loophole which obviously
developed, and which, if the courts had permitted advantage to be
taken of it, as a matter of fact, would absolutely have destroyed
the prohibition against political advertising by corporations. If
'contribution' does not mean 'expenditure,' then a candidate for
office could have his corporation friends publish an advertisement
for him in the newspapers every day for a month before election. I
do not think the law contemplated such a thing, but it was claimed
that it did, at least when it applied to labor organizations. So
all we are doing here is plugging up the hole which developed,
following the recommendation by our own Elections Committee, in the
93 Cong.Rec. 6439.
Page 352 U. S. 584
After considerable debate, the conference version was approved
by the Senate, and the bill subsequently became law despite the
President's veto. It is this section of the statute that the
District Court held did not reach the activities alleged in the
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. United States v. Borden
Co., 308 U. S. 188
court below summarized the allegations of the indictment at the
outset of its opinion:
"Here, the specific charge is that the 'expenditure' violation
came in connection with the selection of candidates for a senator
and representatives to the United States Congress during the 1954
primary and general elections. It is alleged that defendant paid a
specific amount from its general treasury fund to Luckoff and
Wayburn Productions, Detroit, Michigan, to defray the costs of
certain television broadcasts sponsored by the Union from
commercial television station WJBK."
"It is charged that the broadcasts urged and endorsed selection
of certain persons to be candidates for representatives and senator
to the Congress of the United States and included expressions of
political advocacy intended by defendant to influence the
electorate and to affect the results of the election."
"It is further charged that the fund used came from the Union's
dues, was not obtained by voluntary political contributions or
subscriptions from members of the Union, and was not paid for by
advertising or sales."
138 F. Supp. 54.
Page 352 U. S. 585
Thus, for our purposes, the indictment 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.
To deny that such activity, either on the part of a corporation
or a labor organization, constituted an "expenditure in connection
with any [federal] election" is to deny the long series of
congressional efforts calculated to avoid the deleterious
influences on federal elections resulting from the use of money by
those who exercise control over large aggregations of capital. More
particularly, this Court would have to ignore the history of the
statute from the time it was first made applicable to labor
organizations. As indicated by the reports of the Congressional
Committees that investigated campaign expenditures, it was to
embrace precisely the kind of indirect contribution alleged in the
indictment that Congress amended § 313 to proscribe "expenditures."
It is open to the Government to prove under this indictment
activity by appellee that, except for an irrelevant difference in
the medium of communication employed, is virtually
indistinguishable from the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen's
purchase of radio time to sponsor candidates or the Ohio CIO's
general distribution of pamphlets to oppose Senator Taft. Because
such conduct was claimed to be merely "an expenditure [by the
union] of its own funds to state its position to the world," the
Senate and House Committees recommended and Congress enacted, as we
have seen, the prohibition of "expenditures" as well as
"contributions" to "plug the existing loophole."
Although not entitled to the same weight as these carefully
considered committee reports, the Senate debate preceding the
passage of the Taft-Hartley Act confirms
Page 352 U. S. 586
what these reports demonstrate. A colloquy between Senator Taft
and Senator Pepper dealt with the problem confronting us:
"Mr. PEPPER. Does what the Senator has said in the past also
apply to a radio speech? If a national labor union, for example,
should believe that it was in the public interest to elect the
Democratic Party instead of the Republican Party, or vice versa,
would it be forbidden by this proposed act to pay for any radio
time, for anybody to make a speech that would express to the people
the point of view of that organization?"
"Mr. TAFT. If it contributed its own funds to get somebody to
make the speech, I would say they would violate the law."
"Mr. PEPPER. If they paid for the radio time?"
"Mr. TAFT. If they are simply giving the time, I would say not;
I would say that is in the course of their regular business."
"Mr. PEPPER. What I mean is this: I was not assuming that the
radio station was owned by the labor organization. Suppose that, in
the 1948 campaign, Mr. William Green, as president of the American
Federation of Labor, should believe it to be in the interest of his
membership to go on the radio and support one party or the other in
the national election, and should use American Federation of Labor
funds to pay for the radio time. Would that be an expenditure which
is forbidden to a labor organization under the statute?"
"Mr. TAFT. Yes."
93 Cong.Rec. 6439. The discussion that followed, while
suggesting that difficult questions might arise as to whether or
not a particular broadcast fell within the statute, buttresses the
conclusion that § 304 was understood to proscribe
Page 352 U. S. 587
the expenditure of union dues to pay for commercial broadcasts
that are designed to urge the public to elect a certain candidate
or party. [Footnote 1
Page 352 U. S. 588
United States v. CIO, 335 U. S. 106
presented a different situation. The decision in that case rested
on the Court's reading of an indictment that charged defendants
Page 352 U. S. 589
with having distributed only to union members or purchasers an
issue, Vol. 10, No. 28, of "The CIO News," a weekly newspaper owned
and published by the CIO. That issue contained a statement by the
CIO president urging all members of the CIO to vote for a certain
candidate. Thus, unlike the union-sponsored political broadcast
alleged in this case, the communication for which the defendants
were indicted in CIO
was neither directed nor delivered to
the public at large. The organization merely distributed its house
organ to its own people. The evil at which Congress has struck in §
313 is the use of corporation or union funds to influence the
public at large to vote for a particular candidate or a particular
Our holding that the District Court committed error when it
dismissed the indictment for having failed to state an offense
under the statute implies no disrespect for
"the cardinal rule of construction, that where the language of
an act will bear two interpretations, equally obvious, that one
which is clearly in accordance with the provisions of the
Constitution is to be preferred."
Knights Templars' & Masons' Life Indemnity Co. v.
Jarman, 187 U. S. 197
187 U. S. 205
The case before us does not call for its application. Here, only
one interpretation may be fairly derived from the relevant
materials. The rule of construction to be invoked when
constitutional problems lurk in an ambiguous statute does not
permit disregard of what Congress commands.
Appellee urges that if, as we hold, 18 U.S.C. § 610 embraces the
activity alleged in the indictment, it offends several rights
guaranteed by the Constitution. [Footnote 2
] The Government
Page 352 U. S. 590
replies that the actual restraint upon union political activity
imposed by the statute is so narrowly limited that Congress did not
exceed its powers to protect the political process from undue
influence of large aggregations of capital and to promote
individual responsibility for democratic government. Once more, we
are confronted with the duty of being mindful of the conditions
under which we may enter upon the delicate process of
The impressive lesson of history confirms the wisdom of the
repeated enunciation, the variously expressed admonition, of
self-imposed inhibition against passing on the validity of an Act
of Congress "unless absolutely necessary to a decision of the
case." Burton v. United States, 196 U.
, 196 U. S. 295
] Observance of this
principle makes for the minimum tension within our democratic
political system where "[s]carcely any question arises . . . which
does not become, sooner or later, a subject of judicial debate." 1
De Tocqueville, Democracy in America (4th Am. ed. 1843) 306.
The wisdom of refraining from avoidable constitutional
pronouncements has been most vividly demonstrated on the rare
occasions when the Court, forgetting "the fallibility of the human
judgment," [Footnote 4
departed from its own practice. The Court's failure in
Page 352 U. S. 591
19 How. 393, "to take the smooth handle
for the sake of repose" by disposing of the case solely upon "the
outside issue" and the effects of its attempt "to settle the
agitation" are familiar history. [Footnote 5
] Dred Scott
does not stand alone.
These exceptions have rightly been characterized as among the
Court's notable "self-inflicted wounds." Charles Evans Hughes, The
Supreme Court of the United States 50.
Clearly, in this case, it is not "absolutely necessary to a
decision," Burton v. United States, supra,
to canvass the
constitutional issues. The case came here under the Criminal
Appeals Act because the District Court blocked the prosecution on
the ground that the indictment failed to state an offense within §
313 of the Corrupt Practices Act. Our reversal of the district
judge's erroneous construction clears the way for the prosecution
Refusal to anticipate constitutional questions is peculiarly
appropriate in the circumstances of this case. First of all, these
questions come to us unillumined by the consideration of a single
judge -- we are asked to decide them in the first instance. Again,
only an adjudication on the merits can provide the concrete factual
setting that sharpens the deliberative process especially demanded
for constitutional decision. Finally, by remanding the case
Page 352 U. S. 592
for trial, it may well be that the Court will not be called upon
to pass on the questions now raised. Compare United States v.
Petrillo, 332 U. S. 1
332 U. S. 9 et
with the subsequent adjudication on the merits in
United States v. Petrillo, 75 F.
Counsel are prone to shape litigation, so far as it is within
their control, in order to secure comprehensive rulings. This is
true both of counsel for defendants and for the Government. Such
desire on their part is not difficult to appreciate. But the Court
has its responsibility. Matter now buried under abstract
constitutional issues may, by the elucidation of a trial, be
brought to the surface, and, in the outcome, constitutional
questions may disappear. Allegations of the indictment
hypothetically framed to elicit a ruling from this Court or based
upon misunderstanding of the facts may not survive the test of
proof. For example, was the broadcast paid for out of the general
dues of the union membership, or may the funds be fairly said to
have been obtained on a voluntary basis? Did the broadcast reach
the public at large, or only those affiliated with appellee? Did it
constitute active electioneering, or simply state the record of
particular candidates on economic issues? Did the union sponsor the
broadcast with the intent to affect the results of the election? As
Senator Taft repeatedly recognized in the debate on § 304,
prosecutions under the Act may present difficult questions of fact.
pp. 352 U. S.
-587, note 1. We suggest the possibility of such
questions not to imply answers to problems of statutory
construction, but merely to indicate the covert issues that may be
involved in this case.
Enough has been said to justify withholding determination of the
more or less abstract issues of constitutional law. Because the
District Court's erroneous interpretation of the statute led it to
stop the prosecution prematurely,
Page 352 U. S. 593
its judgment must be reversed, and the case must be remanded to
it for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
"Mr. BARKLEY. Suppose a certain corporation, for instance, the
corporation that makes Bayer aspirin, or Jergens lotion, or any
other well advertised product, employes a commentator to talk about
various things, winding up with an advertisement of the product,
and suppose that the radio commentator from day to day takes
advantage of his employment or his sponsorship to make comments
which are calculated to influence the opinions of men or women as
to political candidates. Would the corporation sponsoring the
particular commentator be violating the law?"
"Mr. TAFT. I should have to know the exact facts. If, for
instance, apart from commentators and the radio, and taking the
case of a paid advertisement, suppose a corporation advertises its
products, and that every day for 2 weeks before the election it
advertises a candidate. I should say that would be a violation of
the law. I would say the same thing probably would be true of a
radio broadcast of that kind, under certain circumstances, but I
think I should like to know the exact facts before expressing an
"Mr. BARKLEY. In the case of a commentator who is paid to
advertise a certain product, and who, in the course of his 15
minutes on the radio, may also seek to influence votes, the sponsor
may say, either before or after the broadcast, that he is not
responsible for what the commentary says; yet he is paying the
commentator for his broadcast. Would that still be a violation of
law, although the sponsor might excuse himself or attempt to excuse
himself by saying he was not responsible for the opinions expressed
by the commentator?"
"Mr. TAFT. I think there are all degrees. It would be for a
court to decide. I think, as a matter of fact, if that had happened
under the old law, there would have been the same question."
"I want to make the point that we are not raising any new
questions here. Those same questions could have been raised with
respect to corporations during the past 25 years. It is a question
of fact: was the corporation using its money to influence a
"* * * *"
"Mr. MAGNUSON. Let us consider the teamsters. Suppose they have
a weekly radio program, as, indeed, they have had for a long time
back. Or let us say the AFL has such a radio program. Let us assume
I am running for office, and they ask me to be a guest on their
program. Suppose I talk on the subject of labor, and do not
advocate my own candidacy. Nevertheless, I am on that program. My
name is being advertised, and I am being heard by many thousands of
people. Would that be an unlawful contribution to my
"Mr. TAFT. If a labor organization is using the funds provided
by its members through payment of union dues to put speakers on the
radio for Mr. X against Mr. Y, that should be a violation of the
"Mr. MAGNUSON. They are not paying me anything. They have asked
me to be a guest."
"Mr. TAFT. I understand, but they are paying for the time on the
air. Of course, in each case, there is a question of fact to be
decided. I cannot answer various hypotheses without knowing all the
circumstances. But, in each case, the question is whether or not a
union or a corporation is making a contribution or expenditure of
funds to elect A as against B. Labor unions are supposed to keep
out of politics in the same way that corporations are supposed to
keep out of politics."
93 Cong.Rec. 6439-6440.
"Mr. TAYLOR. . . . Take the matter of a radio program sponsored
by either a union or a corporation. I think the AFL or the CIO, one
or the other, has a news commentator who comments on the news.
Could he comment on political candidates favorably or
"Mr. TAFT. If the General Motors Corp. had a man speaking on the
radio every week to advocate the election of a Republican or a
Democratic Presidential candidate, the corporation ought to be
punished, and it would be punished under the law. Labor
organizations should be subject to the same rule."
"Mr. TAYLOR. That is altogether different. It is a more subtle
thing. When a commentator is broadcasting the news every day, he
can do a lot more good or harm to a man by coloring his broadcast
and presenting it in the guise of a news commentary than he could
"Mr. TAFT. The Senator is right. It is a question of fact which
would have to be raised in every case. Is it a contribution to a
candidate or is it not? Possibly a knock is a boost sometimes. That
argument might well be made by a person who was taking part in an
93 Cong.Rec. 6447.
". . . if such an expenditure is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 610,
the statute violates the provisions of the Constitution of the
United States in that the statute (i) abridges freedom of speech
and of the press and the right peaceably to assemble and to
petition; (ii) abridges the right to choose senators and
representatives guaranteed by Article I, § 2 and the Seventeenth
Amendment; (iii) creates an arbitrary and unlawful classification
and discriminates against labor organizations in violation of the
Fifth Amendment, and (iv) is vague and indefinite and fails to
provide a reasonably ascertainable standard of guilt in violation
of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments."
Brief for appellee, pp. 2-3.
Cases are collected in the opinion of MR. Justice Brandeis in
Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 297 U.
, 297 U. S. 345
"It must be evident to any one that the power to declare a
legislative enactment void is one which the judge, conscious of the
fallibility of the human judgment, will shrink from exercising in
any case where he can conscientiously and with due regard to duty
and official oath decline the responsibility."
1 Cooley, Constitutional Limitations (8th ed.), 332.
A letter written by Mr. Justice Catron to President Buchanan
shortly before the decision was handed down reveals an attitude
"Will you drop [Mr. Justice] Grier a line, saying how necessary
it is -- & how good the opportunity is, to settle the agitation
by an affirmative decision of the Supreme Court, the one way or the
other. He ought not to occupy so doubtful a ground as the outside
issue -- that, admitting the constitutionality of the Mo. Comp.
line of 1820, still, as no domicile was acquired by the negro at
Ft. Snelling, & he returned to Missouri, he was not free. He
has no doubt about the question on the main contest, but has been
persuaded to take the smooth handle for the sake of repose."
10 Works of James Buchanan 106.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE
BLACK join, dissenting.
We deal here with a problem that is fundamental to the electoral
process and to the operation of our democratic society. It is
whether a union can express its views on the issues of an election
and on the merits of the candidates, unrestrained and unfettered by
the Congress. The principle at stake is not peculiar to unions. It
is applicable as well to associations of manufacturers, retail and
wholesale trade groups, consumers' leagues, farmers' unions,
religious groups, and every other association representing a
segment of American life and taking an active part in our political
campaigns and discussions. It is as important an issue as has come
before the Court, for it reaches the very vitals of our system of
Under our Constitution, it is We The People who are sovereign.
The people have the final say. The legislators are their spokesmen.
The people determine through their votes the destiny of the nation.
It is therefore important -- vitally important -- that all channels
of communication be open to them during every election, that no
point of view be restrained or barred, and that the people have
access to the views of every group in the community.
In United States v. CIO, 335 U.
, 335 U. S. 144
MR. JUSTICE Rutledge spoke of the importance of the First Amendment
rights -- freedom of expression and freedom of assembly -- to the
integrity of our elections. "The most complete exercise of those
rights," he said,
"is essential to the full, fair and untrammeled operation of the
electoral process. To the extent they are curtailed, the
Page 352 U. S. 594
electorate is deprived of information knowledge and opinion
vital to its function."
What the Court does today greatly impairs those rights. It
sustains an indictment charging no more than the use of union funds
for broadcasting television programs that urge and endorse the
selection of certain candidates for the Congress of the United
States. The opinion of the Court places that advocacy in the
setting of corrupt practices. The opinion generates an environment
of evildoing, and points to the oppressions and misdeeds that have
haunted elections in this country.
Making a speech endorsing a candidate for office does not,
however, deserve to be identified with antisocial conduct. Until
today, political speech has never been considered a crime. The
making of a political speech up to now has always been one of the
preferred rights protected by the First Amendment. It usually costs
money to communicate an idea to a large audience. But no one would
seriously contend that the expenditure of money to print a
newspaper deprives the publisher of freedom of the press. Nor can
the fact that it costs money to make a speech -- whether it be
hiring a hall or purchasing time on the air -- make the speech any
the less an exercise of First Amendment rights. Yet this statute,
as construed and applied in this indictment, makes criminal any
"expenditure" by a union for the purpose of expressing its views on
the issues of an election and the candidates. It would make no
difference under this construction of the Act whether the union
spokesman made his address from the platform of a hall, used a
sound truck in the streets, or bought time on radio or television.
In each case, the mere "expenditure" of money to make the speech is
an indictable offense. The principle applied today would make
equally criminal the use by a union of its funds to print pamphlets
for general distribution or to distribute political literature at
Page 352 U. S. 595
Can an Act so construed be constitutional in view of the command
of the First Amendment that Congress shall make no law that
abridges free speech or freedom of assembly?
The Court says that the answer on the constitutional issue must
await the development of the facts at the trial.
It asks, "Did the broadcast reach the public at large, or only
those affiliated with appellee?" But the size of the audience has
heretofore been deemed wholly irrelevant to First Amendment issues.
One has a right to freedom of speech whether he talks to one person
or to one thousand. One has a right to freedom of speech not only
when he talks to his friends, but also when he talks to the public.
It is startling to learn that a union spokesman or the spokesman
for a corporate interest has fewer constitutional rights when he
talks to the public than when he talks to members of his group.
The Court asks whether the broadcast constituted "active
electioneering" or simply stated "the record of particular
candidates on economic issues." What possible difference can it
make under the First Amendment whether it was one or the other? The
First Amendment covers the entire spectrum. It protects the
impassioned plea of the orator as much as the quiet publication of
the tabulations of the statistician or economist. If there is an
innuendo that "active electioneering" by union spokesmen is not
covered by the First Amendment, the opinion makes a sharp break
with our political and constitutional heritage.
The Court asks, "Did the union sponsor the broadcast with the
intent to affect the results of the election?" The purpose of
speech is not only to inform, but to incite to action. As Mr.
Justice Holmes said in his dissent in Gitlow v. New York,
268 U. S. 652
268 U. S.
"Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief, and,
if believed, it
Page 352 U. S. 596
is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some
failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth."
To draw a constitutional line between informing the people and
inciting or persuading them and to suggest that one is protected
and the other not by the First Amendment is to give constitutional
dignity to an irrelevance. Any political speaker worth his salt
intends to sway voters. His purpose to do so cannot possibly rob
him of his First Amendment rights unless we are to reduce that
great guarantee of freedom to the protection of meaningless
mouthings of ineffective speakers.
Finally, the Court asks whether the broadcast was "paid for out
of the general dues of the union membership, or may the funds be
fairly said to have been obtained on a voluntary basis." Behind
this question is the idea that there may be a minority of union
members who are of a different political school than their leaders
and who object to the use of their union dues to espouse one
political view. This is a question that concerns the internal
management of union affairs. To date, unions have operated under a
rule of the majority. Perhaps minority rights need protection. But
this way of doing it is, indeed, burning down the house to roast
the pig. All union expenditures for political discourse are banned
because a minority might object.
When the exercise of First Amendment rights is tangled with
conduct which government may regulate, we refuse to allow the First
Amendment rights to be sacrificed merely because some evil may
result. Our insistence is that the regulatory measure be "narrowly
drawn" to meet the evil that the government can control.
Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296
310 U. S. 311
as the Court said in De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.
, 299 U. S.
-365, when speaking of First Amendment rights,
". . . the legislative intervention can find constitutional
justification only by dealing
Page 352 U. S. 597
with the abuse. The rights themselves must not be
If minorities need protection against the use of union funds for
political speechmaking, there are ways of reaching that end without
denying the majority their First Amendment rights. [Footnote 2/1
First Amendment rights are not merely curtailed by the
construction of the Act which the Court adopts. Today's ruling
abolishes First Amendment rights on a wholesale basis. Protection
of minority groups, if any, can be no excuse. The Act is not
"narrowly drawn" to meet that abuse.
Some may think that one group or another should not express its
views in an election because it is too powerful, because it
advocates unpopular ideas, or because it has a record of lawless
action. But these are not justifications for withholding First
Amendment rights from any group -- labor or corporate. Cf.
United States v. Rumely, 345 U. S. 41
Amendment rights are part of the heritage of all persons and groups
in this country. They are not to be dispensed or withheld merely
because we or the Congress thinks the person or group is worthy or
These constitutional questions are so grave that the least we
should do is to construe this Act, as we have in comparable
situations, United States v. CIO, supra;
Page 352 U. S. 598
United States v. Rumely, 345 U. S.
; United States v. Harriss, 347 U.
, to limit the word "expenditure" to activity that
does not involve First Amendment rights. [Footnote 2/2
The Act, as construed and applied, is a broadside assault on the
freedom of political expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.
It cannot possibly be saved by any of the facts conjured up by the
Court. The answers to the questions reserved are quite irrelevant
to the constitutional questions tendered under the First
I would affirm the judgment dismissing the indictment.
There are alternative measures appropriate to cure this evil
which Congress has seen in the expenditure of union funds for
political purposes. The protection of union members from the use of
their funds in supporting a cause with which they do not sympathize
may be cured by permitting the minority to withdraw their funds
from that activity. The English have long required labor unions to
permit a dissenting union member to refuse to contribute funds for
political purposes. Trade Union Act, 1913, 2 & 3 Geo. V, c. 30;
Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, 17 & 18 Geo. V, c.
22; Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1946, 9 & 10 Geo. VI,
If Congress is of the opinion that large contributions by labor
unions to candidates for office and to political parties have had
an undue influence upon the conduct of elections, it can prohibit
such contributions. And, in expressing their views on the issues
and candidates, labor unions can be required to acknowledge their
authorship and support of those expressions. Undue influence,
however, cannot constitutionally form the basis for making it
unlawful for any segment of our society to express its views on the
issues of a political campaign.