By GRAHAM MOOMAW
WASHINGTON (Jan. 22, 2010) - Maryland politicos are maneuvering in the wake of Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that tossed out restrictions on corporate and union campaign spending, with one congresswoman even drafting a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Ft. Washington, said Thursday afternoon that the Supreme Court has left Congress with no legislative options to overturn the decision, which may force those who oppose the ruling to take more drastic measures.
"I'm in the process of drafting a constitutional amendment right now," Edwards said, "(The ruling) completely tips the balance away from ordinary people in the political process and the only way to resolve that is through a constitutional amendment."
Winning approval for a constitutional amendment is difficult: First a supermajority of both houses of Congress must pass the amendment, then it must go to the states for ratification by either the state legislature or a state convention. Three-fourths of all states would have to approve the amendment in order for it to pass.
The court's ruling certainly will change the political landscape for the 2010 elections. In a 5-4 decision, the court struck down a provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, ruling that a ban on political advertising paid for by corporate or union backers is a violation of the free speech guarantees provided by the First Amendment.
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion for the court majority.
"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought," Kennedy wrote. "This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."
The ruling is likely to have an immediate impact on the 2010 elections, which will now be open to advertising paid for by corporations, unions and nonprofits.
Dr. Michael Cain, the director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College, said that Maryland could likely provide one of the first test cases for how the ruling will play out on the ground.
Cain said the loose money is likely to make the biggest impact in close races. The rematch between Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, and state Sen. Andy Harris, R-Baltimore County, in the 1st Congressional District is shaping up to be just that. Cain said it could be ripe for an influx of outside cash from national groups.
"We can expect a lot of money being poured into this," Cain said, "especially if it's a close election."
Other members of the Maryland congressional delegation joined Edwards in voicing their opposition to the court's ruling.
"A very activist Supreme Court has tipped the scales of justice further against American voters today, adding to the great imbalance that currently exists in U.S. campaigns," read a statement by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland. "Congress must now work together in a bipartisan fashion to restore the original intent of the law."
In remarks posted on his Web site, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, said that he would work to do everything possible to try to overturn the decision, which he called un-American.
"This takes us in the exact (opposite) direction from where America wants to go," Van Hollen said. "It will allow the biggest corporations of the United States to engage in the buying and selling of elections."
Jeffrey D. Clements, an attorney who filed an amicus brief to the court on behalf of advocacy groups who wanted to keep the spending limits in place, said the decision could have catastrophic consequences.
"We had a real problem with corporate money in politics before this." said Clements. "All bets are off. All restraints are off. It's just going to get far worse. And it's going to get worse fast."
Not everyone thinks the decision will spell democracy's doom.
James Bopp Jr., a vice chairman of the Republican National Committee and prominent conservative lawyer, said he welcomes the ruling as a benefit to American voters because they would want to hear from those who are most knowledgeable on the economy and other important subjects.
"It is quite legitimate for business corporations and labor unions to speak out on candidates," said Bopp. "There's now going to be no more discrimination among speakers."
Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks money in politics, said that just because outside groups will now have the power to influence federal elections, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will. The fear of a public backlash could be enough to dissuade corporations from utilizing their newfound rights.
"Just because you have a tool or weapon in your arsenal doesn't necessarily mean that you have to or want to use it," Levinthal said. "It's a decision that will have to play out in reality for everyone to see what it means. But that's going to happen very quickly."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.