Ruling may change campaign finance

Marketplace Staff Jul 1, 2009
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Ruling may change campaign finance

Marketplace Staff Jul 1, 2009
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TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: This week, the Supreme Court issued formal opinions for all but one of the cases that it heard this term. As Corbb O’Connor reports from Washington, the remaining case could dramatically change how election campaigns are financed.


CORB O’CONNOR: Just weeks before the 2008 presidential primaries, a conservative group called Citizens United wanted to release a film funded in part by corporations. It was called “Hillary: The Movie.”

“HILLARY: THE MOVIE:” Steeped in controversy, steeped in sleaze, she’s no Richard Nixon — she’s worse.

The creators say it’s a documentary. The Federal Election Commission sided with critics who call it a 90-minute attack ad. Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, corporate-funded ads can’t air within 30 days of a primary election. So the group appealed the FEC’s decision to the Supreme Court. Matt McGill is a partner in the firm that represented Citizens United.

Matt McGill: One of the things that separates our democracy from regimes like that of Iran is that we allow our citizenry to criticize our leaders.

And that First Amendment right is what the Justices are now focused on. Trevor Potter is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He’s concerned, because depending on how the court ultimately rules, large chunks of McCain-Feingold could be eliminated.

TREVOR POTTER: We needed it because corporations had found a way around the 100-year-old ban on spending money in elections. What the Court is now facing is the deeper question of, ‘Is that ban in fact permissible?’.

Potter and others say the implications of relaxed spending laws could mean banks, automakers, and other corporations could produce ads showing support or opposition to candidates who did their legislative bidding.

Lawyers will reargue the case before the high court on September 9th.

In Washington, I’m Corbb O’Connor for Marketplace.

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