Jan. 21, 2010 — -- Legal experts are warning that the public should brace for an unprecedented barrage of harsh attack ads during this year's congressional election season now that the U.S. Supreme Court has erased longstanding limits on corporate and union campaign spending.
One group that hailed the decision, and is already poised to turn that decision into fresh legislative clout is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful lobbying force in Washington that has emerged as one of President Obama's toughest critics.
In recent days, Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue has been preparing members of congress for what he said would be "the largest, most aggressive" campaign effort in the group's 100-year history.
"As Americans choose a new House and senators this fall," Donohue said earlier this month, "the chamber will highlight lawmakers and candidates who support a pro-jobs agenda and hold accountable those who don't."
In practical terms, Thursday's court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission unshackles groups such as the Chamber, allowing them to spend as much as they want on television advertising during the closing weeks of the campaign, and letting them directly call for the defeat of a candidate. (Gone will be those oblique ads that urge viewers to "Call your congressman.")
"You will see more, sharp-edged, candidate-specific advertising, closer to the elections," predicted Joseph Sandler, an election lawyer who for many years represented the Democratic National Committee. "That will make it more difficult than it already is for members to take tough votes in an election year."
Republicans believe the ruling could help tip the fundraising scales back in their direction, after Democrats took advantage of the internet to help gain a fundraising advantage in the 2008 presidential contest.