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Campaign funding free-for-all?

Mark Mardell | 18:18 UK time, Thursday, 21 January 2010

US Supreme Court.jpgFrom the British point of view, one of the notable features of American political campaigns is the volume and viciousness of the political adverts, and the amount of money spent on them. Both attacking an opponent in the way that is commonplace here, and spending the amount of money on it, would be illegal in Britain.

So it is perhaps a bit of a surprise that the Supreme Court has just ruled that the current laws in America are too tight, and that corporations should be allowed to spend just like individuals. It's bound to apply to unions, too. Liberals are alarmed that it will mean big business dictating the outcome of a campaign.

At the moment, the plentiful adverts are paid for by specially set up groups. The ruling was about this trailer for an anti-Hillary Clinton movie paid for by Citizens United. It's not a big business of course, but a pressure group. But legally speaking it is a not-for-profit corporation which is why it fell foul of the current rules.

The judges said stopping that ad airing was a restriction on freedom of speech, "censorship vast in its reach...subverting vibrant public discourse".

One Democratic senator has said the ruling undermines democracy and guts free elections. Commentators like ABC's Terry Moran seem equally alarmed.

Will it make a whole heap of difference? Spending is bound to increase, but don't unions and corporations find a way around the rules anyway? One analyst has told a colleague that businesses won't be delighted: they don't want to spend huge amounts on political campaigns in the current economic environment.

And can American politics get any nastier?

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