David Kirkpatrick's front-page piece Friday on the Supreme Court's momentous decision in favor of loosening First Amendment restrictions on political spending had the same scary flavor as the rest of the paper's news and editorial coverage. The headline especially captured the potential dark side of the ruling on campaign spending, as envisioned by good-government liberals (and the journalistic organs who fall in line behind them, free speech be darned): "Lobbies' New Power: Cross Us, And Our Cash Will Bury You."
The Supreme Court has handed a new weapon to lobbyists. If you vote wrong, a lobbyist can now tell any elected official that my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.
"We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you - whichever one you want,' " a lobbyist can tell lawmakers, said Lawrence M. Noble, a lawyer at Skadden Arps in Washington and former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission.
The decision seeks to let voters choose for themselves among a multitude of voices and ideas when they go to the polls, but it will also increase the power of organized interest groups at the expense of candidates and political parties.
Kirkpatrick shuddered in the face of the upcoming tidal swell of, well, democracy:
It is expected to unleash a torrent of attack advertisements from outside groups aiming to sway voters, without any candidate having to take the criticism for dirty campaigning. The biggest beneficiaries might be well-placed incumbents whose favor companies and interests groups are eager to court. It could also have a big impact on state and local governments, where a few million dollars can have more influence on elections.
The ruling comes at a time when influence-seekers of all kinds have special incentives to open their wallets. Amid the economic crisis, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are trying to rewrite the rules for broad swaths of the economy, from Detroit to Wall Street. Republicans, meanwhile, see a chance for major gains in November.
Kirkpatrick, who used to be the conservative-beat reporter for the Times, exhibited a little of his usual labeling bias, identifying the conservative side but not the opposing liberal one:
The two sponsors of the 2002 law tightening the party-fundraising rules each criticized the ruling.
Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, called it "a terrible mistake." Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, said in a television interview on CNN that he was "disappointed."
Fred Wertheimer, a longtime advocate of campaign finance laws, said the decision "wipes out a hundred years of history" during which American laws have sought to tamp down corporate power to influence elections.
But David Bossie, the conservative activist who brought the case to defend his campaign-season promotion of the documentary "Hillary: The Movie," said he was looking forward to rolling out his next film in time for the midterm elections.