Today’s Supreme Court decision in Citizen’s United v.
Today’s Supreme Court decision in Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission is delighting most political consultants—at least from a business perspective. The ruling, which overturns longstanding limits on corporate money in elections, will likely be a major boon for the industry, with campaign spending expected to soar.The biggest winners in the short-term: media consultants. And the most visible impact for 2010: more political ads than anyone knows what to do with.“It’s going to be like the Wild West,” says Tom Edmonds, president of the Republican media firm Edmonds and Associates. “We’re back to pre-Watergate times now when it comes to campaign finance law.”Edmonds calls the ruling a win for free speech but says the ultimate impact on the industry will take a bit longer to sort itself out. Partners at his firm are reading and digesting the Court’s ruling as quickly as they can and already talking to clients to “get a handle on what the best way to deal with it is.”While the ruling lifts the ban on corporate and union money, direct contributions to candidates from those interests are still barred. That means the soft money will either flow freely to third party groups to spend, or corporate entities will simply spend the money on their own ads. Either way, millions of dollars more will make it into the pockets of the consultants who produce political communications.Still, it’s not entirely good news for media consultants says Democratic media strategist Tad Devine. “Our efforts to communicate with voters could actually be substantially undermined by having so much corporate money thrown into elections at the final hour in completely uncontrollable ways,” Devine says.A senior strategist for Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004, Devine recalls the havoc caused by third party groups running ads in an attempt to help the Kerry campaign. “The intentions were good,” says Devine. “But the effect of that advertising was to undermine our strategic course in the campaign.” The real winners on the media side might be those consultants who focus more on corporate and issue advertising. “For those who work with aggressive advocacy groups on either side of the aisle, it’s a big boon to business,” says Kimberly Scott, a Democratic fundraiser who has worked closely with the labor movement for years.But politically, she says, the decision is really a boost to the GOP. “While it frees up labor as well as corporate dollars,” says Scott, “Republicans will ultimately benefit, and we will need to raise more to compete on the same level.” Unions, she says, simply don’t have the resources to compete dollar-for-dollar with corporate interests.(A handful of Democrats in Congress are apoplectic about Thursday’s ruling. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) calls it “un-American,” and is pledging to hold hearings on the decision in the coming weeks.)Another likely impact—with more TV ads comes more clutter on the airwaves. That’s a potential problem for campaigns already struggling to figure out how to reach fragmented audiences. “I think it’s going to make it much more difficult for candidates to actually get their message out,” says Tim Kay, director of political strategy at National Cable Communications, an industry group. “That’s going to be especially true in those last few weeks when point levels are so high on television.”Only time will tell how far reaching the implications of the Court’s decision will be for the political consulting community, but sort-term changes will become clearer as the next campaign cycle builds. One prominent Democratic consultant described the likely impact as a chain reaction of sorts across the consulting industry. “This changes the game for everyone in one way or another,” he says. “But I wouldn’t be so quick to say that it’s good for everyone.”“It does throw a lot of unknowns on the table in terms of how it impacts business as usual,” says Tom Edmonds. “It’s going to make 2010 a very interesting year that’s for sure.”Shane D’Aprile is the senior editor of Politics magazine.