New campaign power for corporations, unions

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday tore down much of the brick-wall legal barricade that had hemmed in corporate and union spending on political campaigns, and left in place only a loose rope barrier.

As a result of the decision, corporations — including nonprofits corporations and unions — are still prohibited from giving money directly to political candidates except through political action committees. However, they may spend as much money as they want on independent ads for or against candidates, so long as those ads aren’t coordinated with any candidate’s campaign.

“It’s going to be the Wild, Wild West,” Republican campaign attorney Ben Ginsberg told The Washington Post. “It means the public debate is significantly changed ... and it means the loudest voices are going to be corporations and unions.”

That’s a reasonable fear. Corporations and unions have so much money that they can monopolize advertising in a particular race, even if they aren’t allowed to give money directly to a candidate.

Thursday’s Supreme Court decision covered other issues beyond corporate and union spending. On some, the court was on target.

Most importantly, it struck down a controversial portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prohibited independent groups — including nonprofits, corporations and unions — from running ads for or against a candidate during the final days of a campaign.

That provision has always been constitutionally questionable. The First Amendment was designed to protect political speech, first and foremost. And there is nothing in the amendment that even hints at a suggestion that political speech may be restricted just when it is most critical — right before an election.

The high court also upheld provisions requiring that any organization spending money on political ads must disclose names of its contributors. That’s crticial. The Daily Sentinel has long argued that full disclosure must be at the center of campaign finance rules. That way, voters can see who is contributing to whom and decide why they may be doing so.

Money, for all of its influence, isn’t always the deciding factor in political campaigns. There are numerous cases in Colorado and elsewhere in which the candidate who spent the most money wasn’t victorious.

Even so, money can have a huge influence. Candidates who receive massive amounts of independent advertising from their business or union allies will likely have a leg up on their opponents.

Balancing First Amendment rights against other public interests is difficult, and we in the press are always sensitive to any effort to unnecessarily restrict the First Amendment.

By allowing unions and corporations unlimited ability to spend their money in political campaigns, the Supreme Court placed the First Amendment rights of those groups above any public interest in restricting the influence of money in elections. We hope this country doesn’t come to regret that ruling.


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