Supremes Uphold Key Part of Campaign-Reform Law


The Supreme Court Wednesday voted 5-4 to uphold restrictions on political ads aired close to elections and other provisions of a campaign finance reform law.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, intended to lessen the influence of money in politics, prevents corporations, trade unions and interest groups from airing TV and radio ads that mention candidates’ names 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election. That portion of the law was opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters because campaign ads are a primary source of ad revenue for TV and radio stations.

The Supreme Court also upheld the new law’s ban on unlimited donations to political parties. Those unlimited donations, called "soft money," had become a primary component of political campaigns. Ostensibly used to rally voters to the polls, soft money instead allowed parties to funnel unlimited amounts of money raised nationwide into local campaigns.

The authors of the 2002 law praised the court's ruling. "This opinion represents a landmark victory for the American people in the effort to reform their political system. Now that the Court has spoken, we must make sure that the law is properly interpreted and enforced," said Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.).

Sen. Mitchell McConnell (R-Ky.), however, maintained his position that the law violates free speech rights while doing nothing to take money out of politics. McConnell was the primary plaintiff challenging the law. "This law will not remove one dime from politics," he said. "Wealthy donors like George Soros are writing multimillion dollar checks to fund massive special interest groups to run political ads. Outside special interest groups have become the modern day political parties. Soft money is not gone-it has just changed its address."

McConnell appears to be right when it comes to eliminating the political money machine. A new report By Sanford Bernstein analyst Tom Wolzien predicts that $1.6 billion will be spent on campaign ads during the 2004 presidential election cycle, up 60% from 2000 and up one-third from 2002 congressional campaigns.