Times Stoops to State Level to Criticize Court's Free Speech Ruling; Kudos to Kirkpatrick

Reporter Ian Urbina gripes about state-level inconveniences resulting from the Supreme Court's ruling expanding free speech during political campaigns, while reporter David Kirkpatrick surprisingly bucks the conventional liberal media wisdom that money has an inevitably corrupting influence on politics.

On Saturday the Times found yet another angle from which to fret over the recent Supreme Court decision loosening restrictions on political spending by corporations during elections, a free speech victory treated as a danger to democracy by both liberals and the so-called friends of free speech who write for the Times.

(Do we take it as read that the paper's owner, the New York Times Co., which has a current market capitalization of around $1.8 billion, considered itself somehow exempt from the paper's frothing over the undue influence of corporations in politics?)

Saturday's front-page story by Ian Urbina, "Consequences For State Laws In Court Ruling," is dominated by the losing side of the issue, including quotes from the dissenting opinion issued by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens. In all, Urbina rounds up five voices across the nation to gripe about how the ruling will undermine money laundering charges or otherwise result in mid-course changes in criminal investigations in various states. As if those concerns should trump First Amendment rights of free speech.

In Wisconsin, conservative and pro-business groups said Friday that they were considering a lawsuit to block a proposed law that would ban corporate spending during political campaigns.

In Kentucky and Colorado, lawmakers looked for provisions in their state constitutions that may need to be rewritten. And in Texas, lawyers for Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, said the pending state campaign finance case against him should be thrown out.

A day after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the federal government may not ban political spending by corporations or unions in candidate elections, officials across the country were rushing to cope with the fallout, as laws in 24 states were directly or indirectly called into question by the ruling.

"One day the Constitution of Colorado is the highest law of the state," said Robert F. Williams, a law professor at Rutgers University. "The next day it's wastepaper."

The states that explicitly prohibit independent expenditures by unions and corporations will be most affected by the ruling. The decision, however, has consequences for all states, since they are now effectively prohibited from adopting restrictions on corporate and union spending on political campaigns.

In his dissent to the 5-to-4 ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens highlighted the burden placed on states.


The ruling left many state lawmakers frustrated and uncertain how to proceed.

"It's absolutely outrageous and we've got to find a way to deal with it," said Michael E. Gronstal, the Senate majority leader in Iowa, where lawmakers were exploring how they might keep at least some of the restrictions on political expenditures in the current state law.

In contrast, reporter David Kirkpatrick bucked the conventional liberal media wisdom about the corrupting influence of money in politics in the Times' Sunday Week in Review, "A Buck for Your Vote, Sir? (Prove It)."

The question took on new urgency last week as the Supreme Court threw out regulations that prohibited corporations from buying campaign commercials that explicitly advocate the election or defeat of candidates. Democrats called the ruling a threat to democracy; Republicans cheered it as a victory for free speech.

Legal scholars and social scientists say the evidence is meager, at best, that the post-Watergate campaign finance system has accomplished the broad goals its supporters asserted.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted in his opinion that no evidence was marshaled in 100,000 pages of legal briefs to show that unrestricted campaign money ever bought a lawmaker's vote. And even after Congress further tightened the rules with the landmark McCain-Feingold law in 2002, banning hundreds of millions of dollars in unlimited contributions to the political parties, public trust in government fell to new lows, according to polls.

And what about the corporations that contributed so much of that money? A review of the biggest corporate donors found that their stock prices were unaffected after they stopped giving to the parties. The results suggest that those companies did not lose their influence and may have been giving "because they were shaken down by politicians," said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School who has studied the law's impact.