The Supreme Court ruled this week to overturn a century-old limit on corporate spending in political elections. Corporations, unions and political groups can now spend as much as they want on political advertising, so long as they don't give directly to a candidate. No one's exactly sure what this means for future elections, but all are fairly certainly that we'll be seeing a lot more ads.
You're Gonna Cry
Artist: by Binky Griptite & The Mellowmatics
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. This week, the Supreme Court reached a monumental decision that threatens to transform political campaigns. It started with a little known film from 2008 called Hillary: The Movie.
NARRATOR: So who is the real Hillary Clinton? Is she…
BOB GARFIELD: The Federal Election Commission ruled the film could not be shown on the pay-per-view cable channel because it was essentially a political ad funded by a corporation, which was regulated under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws. The group that financed the film protested, and last year, Adam Liptak, The New York Times legal correspondent, told us the Supreme Court could have made a pretty straightforward decision in favor of the film’s backers, such as the movie is not a political ad or pay-per-view is not the same as broadcast TV. Instead, Liptak told us, they called for a rare re-argument.
ADAM LIPTAK: On the last day of the term they come back and say, you know what, we not only want to have the case re-argued, but we want the parties to address whether we should rethink this whole area, which is why this quirky little movie, Hillary: The Movie, seems to be on the verge of giving rise to a real sea change in the way American politics are conducted.
BOB GARFIELD: Well on Thursday, the sea changed. It is now the color - of money. The five-to-four decision reverses laws dating back to Theodore Roosevelt that limited spending by corporations, labor unions and other special interests on political campaigns.
SUSAN LISS: It’s been a hundred years since corporations have been permitted to engage in anything that resembles this.
BOB GARFIELD: Susan Liss is director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
SUSAN LISS: Now, they cannot make direct contributions to any particular political candidate’s campaign, but what they can do is spend whatever amount to support or oppose a candidate. So we can expect a flood of advertising, probably negative more than positive, on the side of one or another candidate, throughout the country, throughout every election.
BOB GARFIELD: So if you like those nasty and usually deceptive political ads that inundate us every election cycle, congratulations. You’re going to see a lot more of them. This is fantastic news for TV stations, which are otherwise losing revenue streams left and right, and it’s a victory for First Amendment absolutists who don't think corporations should be deprived of their free speech rights. But for those who see the political process already corrupted by money and corporate influence, this decision is a historic calamity. The Supreme Court did concede that the ads will have to disclose their corporate funders, and it left open the possibility that new laws could mandate that corporate shareholders sign off on political contributions. The Brennan Center’s Susan Liss:
SUSAN LISS: In Britain there is a law that requires disclosure of corporate political expenditures to shareholders, with specific numbers, and also requires pre-approval by shareholders before corporations spend their money on elections. And that system seems to have actually limited the amount of money that corporations have contributed in British elections.
BOB GARFIELD: Campaign finance laws have always pitted the prevention of corruption against the primacy of free speech, and corporate democracy rules might be a neat solution to the dilemma. If not, you’re going to be hearing a lot, an unlimited lot, from Exxon.
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