Campaign finance ruling: Can Congress do anything?
The Supreme Court's campaign finance ruling was based on the US Constitution. This makes it particularly hard for Congress to do anything but modify campaign finance law – public disclosure provisions, for example.
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It’s a complex decision, and many lawmakers say they need time before determining what options Congress has in a decision argued on broad, constitutional terms.Skip to next paragraph
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Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, a cosponsor of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, says that he’s disappointed with the decision but doesn’t see much that Congress can do about it. “Maybe we’ll have to see how this new set of rules works in American political
campaigns,” he told CNN.
In a rare disagreement on this issue, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin called the decision a terrible mistake. “The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections,” he said in a statement.
It’s not clear how much scope Congress will have to act.
“The problem we face now is that the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to extend real people's First Amendment right to corporations. Congress cannot overturn a court decision based on the Constitution,” says Scott Nelson, an attorney with Public Citizen.
Court endorsed disclosure of contributions
But he says it is at least a hopeful sign that the Supreme Court endorsed disclosure and reporting provisions to inform voters about the sources of speech that are election-related.
“Congress can potentially improve the disclosure of the sources of funds used by corporations when they make independent expenditures of the type allowed under this ruling,” he says.
Kenneth Gross, a Washington attorney who advises clients on the regulation of political activity, says that reaction is overblown. The high court left intact the congressional ban on corporate campaign contributions.
“Corporate money is only in the form of independent expenditures, you still cannot write a check to an individual candidate,” he says. Moreover, it’s not clear that corporations in the current economic and political climate will rush to get into political advertising.
“Shareholders have been very vocal for half a dozen years now on the political front,” Mr. Gross says. “If there’s more money going out because of these loosening of the rules, I think you’re going to see a louder drumbeat from shareholders.”
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