Honest Ads May Be Byproduct Of Landmark Ruling The Supreme Court tossed out parts of a campaign finance law that have been around for decades. Businesses and unions now will be able to spend millions of dollars to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. Truth in advertising is expected to be one result of Thursday's court ruling.
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Honest Ads May Be Byproduct Of Landmark Ruling

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Honest Ads May Be Byproduct Of Landmark Ruling

Honest Ads May Be Byproduct Of Landmark Ruling

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PETER OVERBY: I'm Peter Overby, in Washington.

One change that's likely from yesterday's court decision: truth in advertising.

You know those weird political ads that tell you to call the candidate? Like this one by the Committee for Truth in Politics in 2008. It accuses then-candidate Barack Obama of going easy on child predators.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Woman: Barack Obama was the only member that voted to allow early release for convicted sexual abusers. Call Senator Obama. Tell him to support the Prevention and Deterrence of Crimes Against Children Act.

OVERBY: It's a legal trick. The tell him line is supposed to make the ad be about an issue, not about the presidential election. And issue ads could be funded with money that would be illegal in a real campaign ad, like corporate money. Now, the Supreme Court says corporations can pay for political ads straight up. David Keating is director of the anti-tax advocacy group Club for Growth.

Mr. DAVID KEATING (Director, Club for Growth): So the ads will get more honest, I think. You know, instead of having all this nonsense about call him, they'll tell you what to do: Go vote.

OVERBY: But honest ads weren't really on the court's agenda. It was all about freeing up the speech rights of corporations - unions, too. But Steve Rosenthal, a long-time strategist in the union and progressive movements, says the court has tilted the playing field.

Mr. STEVE ROSENTHAL (Union and Progressive Movement Strategist): To now allow corporations to open their checkbooks and spend as much as they want, it's a very, very big problem. Unions will never have the type of money that corporations have.

OVERBY: And that's not even the biggest way in which yesterday's decision rearranges American politics.

Mr. LARRY NORTON (Former General Counsel, Federal Election Commission): It's a dramatic shift in the allocation of power or influence in campaigns.

OVERBY: Larry Norton is a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission.

Mr. NORTON: Candidates will still be subject to relatively low limits on individual contributions, but they will compete to get their voice heard and to control the message of the election with large corporations that will be able to spend unlimited sums on election ads.

OVERBY: Not everyone predicts an immediate tidal wave of corporate money, here. Campaign finance lawyer Ken Gross says that when it comes to political money, generally, most of his corporate clients ask him, quote, "how little they can do and say they've maxed out."

And big, publicly-held corporations tend to be risk-averse. They might not try this till the Federal Election Commission writes its regulations and some other more daring corporations go first.

Chris LaCivita will be looking for those adventurous corporations, too. He's a political consultant best known for producing the Swift Boat ads against Democrat John Kerry in 2004. He says the 2008 campaign was bad. FEC enforcement scared off too many donors.

Mr. CHRIS LACIVITA (Political Consultant): There were some committed Americans who wanted to communicate a message - you know, threats from the government be damned, they were still going to be involved. But at the end of the day, we were only able to accomplish a tiny portion, budget-wise, of what we originally set out to do.

OVERBY: But it's looking different now. When I called LaCivita yesterday, he sounded a kid who'd opened his Christmas presents and gotten just what he wanted.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)


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