News

High Court Rewrites Political-Ad Rules

1/23/2010 2:00 AM Eastern

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision lifting restrictions on corporate and union spending on campaign advertising will probably mean new money for media. But whether it will be a flood of new dollars, a healthy trickle, or some limited shuffling of money that has already found its way around the traditional limits is not so clear.

President Obama certainly thinks the high court’s decision will mean a flood of new money to the political ad marketplace — that is, unless he finds a way to get Congress to stem the tide first. “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics,” he said in slamming the decision and promising to enlist Congress in fighting back.

Ditto Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.), who plans to take the lead among House Democrats fighting the change. “It will open the floodgate, if left unchecked and unchallenged, to more and more special-interest money,” he said last week, joining with Sen. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) in vowing to try and legislate the ban back into existence.

Brian Wieser, an analyst with Magna Global, isn’t so sure of that flood. He argued the ban has not so much limited the flow of campaign dollars as made money find its way around the rules.

He said there could be “relatively” more money freed up. But he also said that if about as much money as should be going into campaigns is going into them in those round-about ways — like so-called 527 organizations, which collect and spend money independent of campaigns or campaign finance limits — it might not represent that much new money.

“Money always finds a way to seep into politics,” said Evan Tracey, CEO of the Campaign Media Analysis Group at TNS Media Intelligence. “It’s not like all the folks that could benefit from this ruling hadn’t already figured out the necessary workarounds to get the money into the process. It just turns a revolving door into a swinging door.”

Tim Kay, director of political strategy for National Cable Communications, the local spot-sales consortium owned by Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable, said he saw an opportunity for cable in the ban’s lifting. “Allowing corporations and advocacy groups to advertise directly toward a candidate in the 30 days before the election will create a lot of clutter,” Kay said. Cable could help candidates “sort through that clutter.”

Marisa Guthrie of Broadcasting & Cable contributed to this story.

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