The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission not only blows open the doors for unlimited corporate funding of political campaign ads but may prove too tempting when it comes to obeying rules that restrict coordinated efforts between third parties, such as corporations and unions, and political candidates.
Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s expert on ethics, lobbying and campaign finance reform, testified before the FEC about how the Citizens United ruling could open the door for corruption. The massive amounts of corporate money that will flood our elections could prove too tempting for candidates and political parties who may seek to coordinate spending on political ads with businesses and industry groups.
While the Supreme Court has lifted restrictions on what corporations can spend on ads that advocate for candidates or issues, current campaign finance law says if those expenditures are coordinated with candidates or political parties, they are considered direct contributions and subject to regulation.
The problem is that the FEC has defined “coordination” so narrowly that candidates and party committees can work hand-in-hand with outside groups in developing and airing campaign ads that support or oppose candidates, as long as that cooperative effort occurs more than 90 days before a congressional election and the ads do not use the “magic words” of “vote for” or “vote against.” The Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for example, a candidate in an upcoming election, can instruct Boeing Corporation (which is seeking a defense appropriation from the committee) to air a TV ad that praises the candidate’s virtues or criticizes the candidate’s opponent more than three months before the election, and the ads would not be deemed coordinated with the candidate and subject to regulation under current FEC rules.
Holman urged the FEC to adopt much stronger rules that would prevent corporations and third parties from coordinating their political efforts with candidates.