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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Supremes Blow Up Corporate Spending Ban

This item by Ed Kilgore was originally published on January 21, 2009.
It was not entirely unexpected, but is still dramatic and depressing news: in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a century-old ban on direct corporate political spending, potentially opening a very large spigot of special-interest money into our airwaves just in time for the 2010 elections.
The decision did not immediately affect federal limitations on contributions to candidates, or “soft money” contributions to party committees. But it did strike down the ancient prohibition of direct corporate sponsorship of “issue ads.” The decision also kills state-level corporate political spending bans.
It will take awhile to fully digest the impact of this decision, which is the most tangible consequence yet of George W. Bush’s Court appointments (Roberts and Alito joined the majority). And it’s not an unambiguous victory for corporations, since labor unions and progressive non-profit corporations are also “liberated” by the ruling.
But this does represent one of the hard-core Right’s long-term agenda items, and obviously strengthens the Court’s “money equals speech” formulation of First Amendment rights, which has long frustrated campaign reform advocates and puzzled observers from other countries. It also may feed the trend among reformers to focus on public financing of campaigns as an alternative to private political money, instead of increasingly futile efforts to regulate private political money.
All in all, though, the Supremes made sure this will go down as an especially bad week in progressive politics.

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