U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Reforms To Political Campaigns

By Agence France-Presse The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 10 upheld key features of a sweeping law designed to rein in the influence of money in what have become hugely expensive American political campaigns. Sharply divided justices ruled 5-4 that U.S. lawmakers can regulate the millions of dollars given to political parties with the intention of affecting the vote. They also ruled 5-4 that lawmakers can restrict political advertising in the run-up to elections, arguing that the right to free speech is outweighed by the need to avoid corruption in politics. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment in the ruling. "This decision is a disappointing step back toward less information, fewer options and restricted speech," said Thomas Donohue, Chamber president and CEO. The campaign finance law limits what had become massive contributions known as "soft money" given to political parties by corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Such money was a major factor in the record spending of nearly half-a-billion dollars spent in the 2000 elections. While "hard money" was already strictly regulated and goes directly to political campaigns, "soft" contributions were ostensibly for party-building activities and mobilizing the vote. The lines were frequently blurred, however. The new ruling means candidates will be restricted to regulated contributions as the 2004 presidential and congressional elections heat up, although new interest groups have already sprung up seeking ways to use the now-banned funds. The law also banned the use of corporate funds, interest group money or labor union dues to broadcast so-called "issue ads" that identify a specific candidate 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary election. "We are under no illusion that [the law] will be the last congressional statement on the matter," Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens wrote in the opinion for the majority. "Money, like water, will always find an outlet. What problems will arise, and how Congress will respond, are concerns for another day." IW contributed to this report. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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