Large majority opposes Supreme Court’s decision on campaign financing

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010; 7:00 AM
Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent “strongly” opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).

The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisansupport on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are in the midst of crafting legislation aimed at limiting the impact of the high court’s decision. Likely proposals include banning participation in U.S. elections by government contractors, bank bailout recipients or companies with more than 20 percent foreign ownership.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republican lawmakers have praised the ruling as a victory for free speech and have signaled their intent to oppose any legislation intended to blunt the impact of the court’s decision.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the high court ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech and can therefore use their profits to support or oppose individual candidates. The decision appears to open the door to unlimited spending by corporations, trade groups and unions in the weeks leading up to an election, which has been explicitly banned for decades.

Democrats have seized on the ruling as an example of judicial overreach and vowed to enact new limits on political spending by corporations, which have traditionally favored Republicans in their contribution patterns. Obama said in his State of the Union address that the ruling will “open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

Republicans and business groups have rallied around the ruling, arguing that the decision merely levels the playing field with free-spending unions and other liberal interest groups. The new poll, however, suggests there may be political risks for the GOP in opposing limits that appear to be favored by the party’s base.

Nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservative Republicans say they oppose the Supreme Court ruling, with most of them strongly opposed. Some two-thirds of conservative Republicans favor congressional efforts to limit corporate and union spending, though with less enthusiasm than liberal Democrats.

Indeed, the poll shows remarkably strong agreement about the ruling across all demographic groups, and big majorities of those with household incomes above and below $50,000 alike oppose the decision. Age, race and education levels also appeared to have little relative bearing on the answers.

The questions on corporate political spending were included as part of a poll conducted Feb. 4 to 8 by conventional and cellular telephone. The margin of sampling error for the for the full poll of 1,004 randomly selected adults is plus or minus three percentage points.

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