Original Link: http://www.jacksonsun.com/article/20100124/OPINION/1240308
While much of the nation was focused on Tuesday's stunning election victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court dropped a bomb on the political establishment that will have far greater impact on future elections. The court struck down six decades of precedent, including two of its own rulings, to allow corporations, labor unions and other organizations to spend freely on political campaigns. Simply put, the court said it is a matter of free speech, and it is hard to argue against that.
The court's ruling is certain to change the political landscape in ways that can only be imagined at this point. But within hours of the ruling, corporations were already looking for ways to spend money on this year's mid-term elections. We are hopeful that the court's decision will be followed by the strictest spending disclosure requirements. It will be the only way for voters to know where the money is coming from and to factor that into their voting decisions.
The new rules also raise significant conflict of interest questions. Will political campaign spending by defense contractors affect legislation and critical funding votes in Congress? Corporate or labor union spending in congressional races could affect the outcome where winners would be responsible for narrowly defined legislation to benefit a company or a union.
While the court's ruling applied specifically to political campaigns for president and Congress, the ruling presumably will have to be applied to state and local elections as well, likely negating many aspects of campaign spending laws in 24 states. This is especially troubling because state and local races often are won by the candidate with the most money to spend, or, under the new law, have had spent on his behalf.
We support free speech and accept the court's ruling in this regard. Still, it is hard to imagine this is what the founding fathers had in mind when they established the First Amendment in the late 18th century. Today's huge multi-national corporations can have a greater effect on people's lives than the ups and downs of politics. To also allow them unfettered access to the political process through their fat checkbooks gives us pause.
More than ever, full disclosure of campaign spending will be a must. And more than ever it will be the job of the media to keep close tabs on who is influencing whom and why. The watchdog role of the press has not changed, but the complexity and demands of the job have increased substantially.