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by Jay Gallagher

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A step backwards on campaign-financing limits?

Last month's Supreme Court decision that took the lid off campaign expenditures by corporations could have profound effects on New York politics, a panel of experts (plus me) said in a radio interview today.
The decision, a controversial 5-4 ruling, said that corporations, for the purpose of political speech, are the same as individuals, and that governments can't limit what they can spend to get their views heard.
This effectively removes the limits on independent corporate expenditures in political campaigns in federal and Congressional races set up in the 2003 McCain-Feingold law that was adopted by Congress. (Limits on donations to political campaigns were not affected.)
The ruling means that corporations can spend money not only from political-action committees, but directly from shareholder funds as long as the spending isn't coordinated with a candidate's campaign, said Stephen Gottlieb, a professor at Albany Law School. He and he rest of the panelists appeared on Susan Arbetter's "Capitol Pressroom'' show this morning that is heard around the state.
Loosening the reins on corporate spending could lead to an explosion of so-called "issue ads'' by independent third parties that could crowd out what the candidates are trying to get across, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
He said that much as billionaire Tom Golisano spent millions two years ago trying to influence races, corporations could try to intervene to push causes they favor.
Business groups are still trying to sift through what doors the ruling might open to them. Opponents of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation that lies under the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley fear that the drilling firms could spend millions trying to influence the debate on what regulations the state should impose on their activities.
I pointed out that organized labor has generally had the best of businesses on issues they have clashed on before the Legislature for decades, but that this ruling could change that relationship.
Horner said that businesses have always spent a lot on lobbying and campaign donations, but have tended to split their spending on relatively narrow issues and seldom have worked effectively together to influence broader state policies.

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