The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision earlier this year held that (via SCOTUSblog):

Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.

In practical terms, that means corporate interests can whack politicians 1) anonymously, and 2) at will.

Case in point: Concerned Taxpayers for America v. Peter DeFazio, as chronicled by NPR’s All Things Considered on Saturday.

Democrat Peter DeFazio is a perfect example of the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling. DeFazio is running for re-election in Oregon’s fourth Congressional district. A few weeks ago, he got a call from one of his staffers about a new attack ad that he’d just seen. The ad was different from previous attack ads that his opponent, Republican Art Robinson, had been running during the campaign.

“The ad was very sophisticated. I knew it wasn’t my opponent’s. I would pay money to put my opponent’s ad up,” DeFazio says.

The Concerned Taxpayers for America turned out to be the group responsible for the attack ad. But neither DeFazio nor his opponent, Art Robinson, knew anything about them. Robinson, who agrees with what the ad says about DeFazio, refuses to distance himself from the group nor investigate any further for legal reasons.

“I haven’t been trying to find out because I think that’s the legal position I’m supposed to take,” Robinson explains.

Right: Candidates can’t coordinate their campaigns with these outside groups. Which allows anonymous donors to pump an estimated $3 billion into the 2010 midterm elections with zero accountability.

Stealth advertising on steroids, in other words.


John R. Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is an NPR media analyst and a journalism professor at Boston University.
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