The Supreme Court upheld a campaign-finance law sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis. The law bars national political parties from raising or spending soft money-large contributions from individuals, corporations and labor unions. And in the 30 days prior to a primary or party convention, or 60 days before an election, the law bars broadcast ads that mention or picture a federal candidate.
As a result, unions and corporations are expected to shift most of their soft money to newly formed political action committees, and are expected to circumvent the latter rule by running negative ads earlier in the campaign, airing "Get out the vote" messages close to elections and switching negative messages to newspaper, outdoor and Internet ads.
"Overall spending will go up," predicted John Samples, director of the Center for Responsible Government at the conservative CATO Institute. "But instead of the $600 million for 2004 in soft money we had been projecting, we may see $400 million on `get out the vote' efforts."
The National Association of Broadcasters, while acknowledging the high court decision could have effects on broadcast ads, said it wouldn't comment before fully reviewing the case. But Newspaper Association of America officials were buoyant. "We hope the lion's share comes to newspapers," said Jack Brady, director-marketing and advertising. "We believe in the First Amendment and are open for business."
Because the Republicans have a late nominating convention next year, the negative-ad rule means that aside from official party committees and the campaigns of President Bush and his opponent, no other committee will be able to run broadcast ads mentioning or picturing President Bush for 90 days before the election.
"There will be a nationwide blackout from July 31 on," said Laurence E. Gold, assistant general counsel for the AFL-CIO, which pushed to get the court to overturn parts of the law. "It is a crime to broadcast anything anywhere in the nation that refers to the President or Bush."
The union group still expects to express itself but how it all plays out next fall is yet to be determined.
Political advertisers could prove adept at getting across negative message without ever mentioning candidates' names or tie print, billboard and Internet ads naming names to TV ads that don't.
Complicating the equation are other uncertainties. Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean is hoping to raise $200 million before the general election if he captures the nomination, far more than Democrats in past elections. Some of that could be from contributors who formerly provided soft-money contributions.
"It's hard to tell what will happen because the dynamics change year to year," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "A number of the [soft-money contributors] had already moved to set up organizations that are run by people with close ties to the political parties, but some of the money could go out of the process. On the other hand, it's more polarized this year and Democratic groups and independents may be willing to put more into defeating George Bush."