A landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling could open the campaign cash floodgates in Wisconsin and across the country. The momentous decision throws out a decades-old law used to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections.
The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which barred union and corporate sponsored issue ads in the closing days of campaigns. But Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin says McCain-Feingold’s disclosure provision remains intact, calling that “the one positive thing” to come out of the justices decision. “At least voters will be able to find out who the donors are behind these outside ads. That’s very positive, and I think we can continue to move ahead in Wisconsin on that front.”
The Wisconsin state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would require disclosure on those so-called “issue ads” in Wisconsin. “We’ve only been able to look at just the briefest of summaries, and we’re going to have to pore through the 157 page decision as well as the dissent, to see exactly what that will do to Senate Bill 43,” says Heck. “But it does appear that the disclosure requirements in the legislation will not be effected by this Supreme Court decision.”
Heck says the narrow 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case means corporations and labor will be able to spend freely on congressional and presidential campaigns. “Currently in Wisconsin they can do that anyway, but they have to couch the language in what are called issue ads. This decision apparently makes it possible for these groups to be able to run those types of outside expenditures without even having to go through the disguise of trying to create an issue ad out of them,” Heck says. But, Heck says the ruling will almost certainly mean unions and corporations will pour millions of dollars into November’s midterm congressional campaigns here in Wisconsin.
“The United States Supreme Court has visited this issue three times in the last six years,” says Heck, suggesting that Thursday’s decision may not be the last word. “This could be revisited with a different result,” if their is a change in the composition of the court in the next several years, Heck believes.
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