Nobles Law Firm

Sick of negative campaign ads? Blame the U.S. Supreme Court

flagsBack in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – a case that has, for better or worse, substantially changed American politics.

Since that case, people have claimed Citizens United has further diluted the power of individuals to have a voice in politics as moneyed interests can better influence elected officials through political action committees (PACs). Others have argued Citizens United protects political speech, a right guaranteed under the First Amendment.

I’m not going to get into any of that. Instead, I’d rather talk about the little discussed fact that Citizens United has opened the door for special interests to annoy the heck out of voters with one attack ad after another. And those ads have gotten darned annoying.

For those unfamiliar with Citizens United, the case effectively struck down any laws restricting corporations, unions and trade groups from raising and spending essentially as much as they want to support or tear down candidates running for office. Bear in mind there are still restrictions on direct contributions to candidates, but that is not the case for independent expenditures.

The logic that drove the court in Citizens United, seemingly, was that indirect expenditures can’t corrupt politicians because they are not given directly to them. A result of that is that we have seen the emergence of a bunch of political action committees that we may or may not have heard of spending millions of dollars on ads that do little more than bash one candidate or the other and may or may not be true under any reasonable definition.

We’ve had our fair share of those finger-pointing, name-calling attack ads in Arkansas, but we’re not alone. According to Time $87.5 million was spent through July on political ads across the nation this year by those so-called super PACs that Citizens United gave the go-ahead to spend money at will. Time also reported that Americans are uneasy with the increased presence and influence of Super PACS – a majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents polled found the increased spending by Super PACs is wrong and leads elected officials to look after the interests of donors rather than voters.

The issue is somewhat nonpartisan, then. Perhaps the increased number of attack ads have annoyed people enough that they want to see them stopped.

Meanwhile, another poll conducted in 12 states with hotly contested elections where super PAC advertising is particularly nasty found that a full 73 percent of those polled supported a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

A Constitutional amendment to allow for more campaign finance reform was introduced this year in the Senate. It stalled there in early September.

This column was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the Sept. 23, 2014, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.

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