By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello, CNN
(CNN) – Can you imagine a world in which your next congressman is “sponsored” by Pepsi? Or Walmart? Or any corporation for that matter? Well, it may not be so far-fetched.
Enter the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in January that the “prohibition of corporate independent (political) expenditures is an outright ban on free speech.” That ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, effectively opened the flood gates to allow, for example, Pepsi or Walmart, or any company to pay for advertising supporting or opposing a political candidate – so long as it’s not done in league with a candidate. Labor unions, just like corporations, are also now free to pay for political advertising.
The first political ad bought and paid for by a corporation has appeared in several small newspapers in east Texas. KDR Development Inc., a real estate company, took out an ad opposing Chuck Hopson, a Republican running for reelection to the Texas legislature. Hobson told CNN, “a friend of mine called and said, 'Chuck, there’s a corporate ad against you in the paper.' And I said, 'yea, who is it?'”
Larry Durrett is the president of KDR. He ran unsuccessfully against Hopson in a previous election. (We called several times asking Durrett for a comment, but he did not return any of our phone calls.) The KDR ad reads, “Vote for a Real Republican,” and it goes on to criticize Hopson for “(supporting) the Democratic platform and agenda.”
KDR isn’t exactly a Fortune 500 company, but Durrett wonders: “What if it’s a big company that America loves or what if it’s a company that American hates?”
Nonsense, says Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “No corporation is going to run an ad ... using the magic words, 'vote for', 'vote against', and at the bottom say, 'paid for by CNN.' I’m just going to guarantee you that’s not going to happen.” His reasoning is that entering the political fray so explicitly could alienate some of a company’s customers.
David Bossie of Citizen United, which successfully brought the case to the Supreme Court, says the court’s ruling means that everybody wins. “Whether they’re liberal or conservative…everyone is able to participate fully and completely in the process. And that’s a wonderful thing for democracy. It’s a wonderful thing for your average person.”
Some in Congress don’t think the ruling is all that wonderful.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) wants a “constitutional amendment so that we the people can take back our elections and our democracy.”
Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Republican Rep. Mike Castle want Congress to pass a bill that curbs the impact of the court’s ruling. They want to limit political donations of foreign-owned companies, require American companies to inform their shareholders about the political spending and require CEO’s to appear in political advertising.
Despite all the hoopla, so far only KDR has chosen to enter the political fray. And their ad didn’t’ work. Chuck Hopson won the Republican primary with 61% of the vote.