Find another way to control ‘soft money’ in campaigns
The U.S. Supreme Court has widened the ability of unions and corporations to buy political broadcast ads.
CORPORATIONS and labor unions have regained political clout from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that they can buy television advertisements in the final days of election campaigns. The ruling weakens restrictions in the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance act and, in doing so, Hawaii's similar state law. The principle of free speech justifiably trumps restrictions on political activism.
Political candidates are limited in amounts they can receive for their campaigns, but restricting expenditures by unions and corporations can be regarded as gagging speech. The only unquestionably constitutional method for Congress to control such monetary activism may be to restrict broadcast stations in their acceptance of political ads from such sources. Stations already are regulated in the political arena by having to provide equal time to opposing candidates.
The high court ruled that corporate and union treasuries can be used to air broadcast ads at unlimited cost, as long as they don't explicitly call for a candidate's victory or defeat. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the 5-4 decision that a violation can occur only if the ad "advocated the election or defeat of a candidate."
The federal law forbids corporate or union "soft money" from being used for broadcast ads up to 30 days before a primary election and in the final 60 days of a general election campaign. An anti-abortion group called Wisconsin Right to Life challenged that law in claiming the right in 2004 to criticize Sen. Russell Feingold for helping block President Bush's judicial nominees.
Hawaii Right to Life was granted an exemption from restrictions or pre-election ads in 2002 because only $50 of its $8,000 in donations the previous year were corporate. Wisconsin Right to Life depended more on corporate contributions.
The justices this week did not overthrow the law's restriction; they just interpreted the law to be more flexible than the court ruled four years ago by a 5-4 vote. The difference was the vote cast with the majority by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., successor to retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who voted the opposite way.
The court might be on the way to overturning the campaign law's restrictions; it fell short of reversing a 2003 ruling that the ad restriction was not unconstitutional "on its face." However, three of the five majority justices agreed in a separate opinion that they considered the entire provision to be unconstitutional. Alito was the only justice who agreed entirely with Roberts' opinion.
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