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States grapple with Supreme Court ruling

Jan. 23, 2010 at 1:20 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on political spending by corporations and unions raises questions about laws in two dozen states, The New York Times reports.

Some experts said while the decision overturning restrictions on corporate and union campaign contributions probably won't lead to immediate changes in laws, state laws will eventually be challenged in courts or repealed by state legislators as a result of the decision.

The states that explicitly prohibit independent political spending by unions and corporations will be affected most. But the ruling's reach extends to all states because it forbids them to adopt restrictions on corporate and union spending on political campaigns, the Times said.

In his dissent to the 5-4 ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens pondered the burden he said the ruling places on states.

"The court operates with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel when it strikes down one of Congress' most significant efforts to regulate the role that corporations and unions play in electoral politics," Stevens wrote. "It compounds the offense by implicitly striking down a great many state laws as well."

Some state lawmakers expressed frustration and uncertainty over the ruling.

"It's absolutely outrageous and we've got to find a way to deal with it," said Michael Gronstal, the majority leader in the Iowa state legislature, which is looking at ways to retain some restrictions on political expenditures.

Experts predicted more pressure from state lawmakers and reform groups for states to improve disclosure rules and regulate spending in local races. The Times said lawmakers in Kentucky and Colorado were checking their state constitutions for parts that may have to be rewritten.

The high court ruling came just after the Wisconsin Senate passed a measure to largely ban corporate spending during campaigns, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Conservative and pro-business groups in the state said they were considering suing to block the proposed ban.

Lawyers for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the high court decision should lead to the campaign finance case against him being dropped. In 2005, DeLay was charged with criminal violations of state campaign finance laws and money laundering. His trial is pending.

Democratic congressional leaders said Thursday they would pursue legislation designed to limit the impact of the decision, which has been harshly criticized by President Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill.

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