Wild Times In Campaign Finance World
It's a presidential election year, and so it should come as no surprise that the Wild West of campaign finance has been generating plenty of headlines.
In North Carolina, the shadow campaigns have already begun weighing in with ads in the governor's race.
The Republican Governors Association aired an ad trying to portray the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, as Gov. Beverly Perdue's right-hand man.
An independent group receiving money from the Democratic Governor's Association shot back with ad questioning Republican nominee Pat McCrory's ties to Tree.com, the parent company of lender LendingTree.com.
The McCrory campaign tried to get the ad pulled from the airwaves, saying it was filled with "egregious and false statements."
(Well, it is a political ad, isn't it?)
Elsewhere, North Carolina joined other states in a lawsuit trying to limit the damage from the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the flood of corporate money into political campaigning.
The states, led by Montana, argue that the ruling shouldn't be used to undo their own state laws that restrict the flow of corporate money into campaigns.
Good luck on that. The Supremes have shown about as much concern for the corrupting influence of money in politics as they have for private property rights in Connecticut.
The state's foray into public financing of campaigns for statewide judicial offices and a few executive offices also looks to be on shaky ground. In the legislature, a Republican majority doesn't think much of the idea; in the courts, a provision of the law that allows extra money for publicly financed candidates facing an influx of private opponent dollars appears in trouble.
On the national front, a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia dealt a blow to the freewheeling world of independent, shadow campaign groups. A court panel, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that the First Amendment doesn't protect anonymous free speech after all, that free speech doesn't mean repercussion-free speech.
The court ruled that these groups, when producing ads that attack candidates without specifically calling for their defeat or election, still must disclose their donors in a timely fashion.
Of course, these groups - whether Crossroads GPS, Moveon.org, or Americans for Prosperity - will be employing a battery of lawyers to finagle their way around the ruling.
Also on the national stage, a billionaire funding an ad campaign aimed at President Obama was persuaded not to run an ad dredging up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Apparently, he was convinced by the political pros that the backlash would hurt Mitt Romney more than Obama.
The events portend a day, in the not-too-distant future, when some billionaire, just days before an election, purposely finances and runs an ad that pretends to attack a candidate, but instead is designed to generate backlash and turn the candidate into a sympathetic victim.
Wonder what the Supreme Court will say then?
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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