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A pivotal Supreme Court case with the potential to "transform the way political campaigns are conducted" has drawn opinion from the highest soapboxes on the right and the left. The court could revoke campaign finance laws, including McCain-Feingold, which would limit the government's ability to regulate campaign spending by corporations and unions. Liberal and conservative voices differ drastically on what that would mean. So what's at stake? Only free speech, fair elections and the enduring preservation of American democracy ...

Why Campaign Finance Laws Must Stay in Place
  • Overturning Would Be a Radical Departure from the Past, decries The New York Times editorial board. Since 1907, corporations have been prohibited from bankrolling federal campaigns. At the state-level, businesses have been barred since the late 1800s. Overturning such laws would "usher in an unprecedented age of special-interest politics." The editorial envisions a country where corporate interests trample those of workers, investors and consumers. Corporations would "spend whatever it takes" to pressure members of Congress to do their bidding.
  • It Flies in the Face of Precedent, blasts The Washington Post editorial board: "The court should back away from this cliff." The Supreme Court already affirmed the constitutionality of restrictions on corporate spending in 1990 and 2007. "For the court instead to reach out and overrule the earlier cases would be judicial activism of the first order," writes the editors. Isn't that precisely the kind of jurisprudence Chief Justice Roberts ostensibly opposes?   
  • Corporations Are Filthy Rich, exclaims Doug Kendall at The Huffington Post. Crunching the numbers, Kendall explains that in total, Republicans and Democrats spent slightly over $1.5 billion between 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the top 10 most profitable companies earned combined profits of over $350 billion. "This contrast reveals that unleashing even a tiny fraction of corporate profits—from just a handful of companies—could overwhelm the campaign system with money that represents the narrowest interests of private, profit-driven entities."
Why McCain-Feingold Should Be Overturned
  • It Violates the First Amendment, insists Theodore Olson in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal: "Congress, in its zeal to impose onerous campaign-finance restrictions, has made political speech a felony for one class of speakers." Olson argues that most corporations are small businesses that "have every right" to speak out against particular candidates. "The First Amendment does not permit the government to handicap speakers based on their wealth," he says.
  • It's a Slippery Slope, warns Steve Simpson at Real Clear Politics. Simpson points out that existing campaign finance laws banned a film attacking Hillary Clinton, which is what the current case centers on. If the government can ban films, he argues, "then it can ban books, .. newspapers, magazines and Internet commentary." Campaign finance reformers will stop at nothing to rid the system of money. Speech must be treated as "inalienable" to prevent further censorship, Simpson writes.

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