December 18, 2003
TAB to reconsider ads

If you're looking for good things resulting from the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform, here's one:

The Texas Association of Business is reconsidering whether to replicate a corporate-financed advertising campaign that it says helped elect a Republican majority in the Texas House.

The association's $1.9 million campaign, which targeted mailed fliers to voters in 24 legislative races, has been under criminal investigation since early in the year when association President Bill Hammond boasted of the campaign's effectiveness. It's illegal under state law to use corporate money for electioneering, and groups that spend money on election activities must disclose donors' names.

The business group has said its ads weren't electioneering because they didn't expressly advocate for the election or the defeat of any candidates. It has refused to identify the corporations that paid for the ads, saying that the information is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.

The mailers sent by the group criticized incumbent Democrats, mostly for votes on business-related issues.

The association based its campaign on a legal theory that electioneering is determined by so-called magic words -- including "vote for," "vote against," "support" or "defeat." The test can be traced to a footnote in a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that the magic words test is not the standard by which political advertising should be judged.

The Court was not persuaded "independent of our precedents, that the First Amendment erects a rigid barrier between express advocacy and so-called issue advocacy," the court said. "That notion cannot be squared with our longstanding recognition that the presence or absence of magic words cannot meaningfully distinguish electioneering speech from a true issue ad."

Despite the criminal investigation, Hammond in October said his group would solicit corporate donations for election season issue advertising next year. In addition to the presidency, seats in Congress, the state House and Senate and judicial positions are up for election next year.

On Wednesday, Hammond said the association is assessing its options in light of the Supreme Court's ruling.

"The Texas Association of Business' voter information activities in 2002 were allowed by law and conducted well within the law," Hammond said. "The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on federal campaign finance reform underscores state legislators' prerogative to change this law if they choose in the future."

Would have been nice to have had this before 2002, but I'll take what I can get. And there's still that grand jury investigation, too.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 18, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack