WASHINGTON – Unions and corporations would be allowed to pay for ads that mention political candidates in the weeks just before an election under rule options under consideration by the Federal Election Commission.
The two proposals, announced Thursday, are in response to a Supreme Court ruling in June and would provide a broad exception to advertising limits contained in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The FEC has asked interested parties to comment on the options and says it plans to issue a final rule by the end of November.
In a 5-4 decision on June 25 that permitted some of the previously prohibited ads, Chief Justice John Roberts said free speech rights took precedence over government restrictions on political advertising. But the court did not spell out exactly what ads would fall under its interpretation.
One regulation suggested by the FEC would permit unions and corporations to pay for issue ads that refer to candidates, but would require those payments to be disclosed to the public. The second proposal would exempt unions and corporations from the disclosure requirement.
Either way, the ultimate rule adopted by the FEC could allow unions and corporations to spend largely unrestricted amounts of money on television ads in the closing days of an election.
The ads would still not be able to explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate, but they could detail a political candidate's stand on topical issues.
As a result of the uncertainty left by the court ruling, the FEC is also seeking comment on what types of ads would be eligible for corporate or union money.
The McCain Feingold law placed a blackout period of 30 days before a primary and 60-days before a general election for any corporate- or union-financed ad that named a candidate for office.