By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 1/25/2010 1:05:47 PM ET 2010-01-25T18:05:47

Claim: Drug and insurance firms can sway elections now that they can run campaign ads.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit and nonprofit corporations could pay for campaign ads praising or attacking candidates by name. The court overturned its 1990 Austin decision which had banned direct corporate political expenditures. The Austin decision referred to what it called "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of (corporate) wealth." But last week, five justices agreed that corporations have a First Amendment right to broadcast campaign ads. Prior to last week's ruling, corporations did use political action committees (PACs), as permitted under federal law, to support or oppose candidates. In the 2008 campaign, the Pfizer Corp. PAC, for instance, gave a total of $1.8 million to Democratic and Republican candidates, ranging from Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin to Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.

Fact or fiction?
Fact. Yes, companies can use their new freedom to run campaign ads, but will they want to? Some consultants think corporations will shy away. "I don't think that this ruling fundamentally changes the system yet," said Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg. A hypothetical election ad funded by Pfizer, for example, would be required to contain a statement identifying Pfizer as the sponsor. Such ads could alienate viewers. "You could lose tens of thousands of customers. Is it really worth it?" asked Rosenberg skeptically. Election law expert Larry Noble at the Skadden, Arps law firm said companies could fund nonprofit groups which in turn could run ads. The money that paid for the ads would be disclosed on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Web site. Coordination by corporations with candidates is illegal; enforcement by the politically split FEC is a question mark.

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