Big OK for Bigelectionmoney Court Allows Big Political Role for Business, Unions

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Byline: Mark Sherman and Jim Kuhnhenn Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Coming soon to your TV, thanks to the Supreme Court: an even bigger flood of political ads.

A bitterly divided court vastly increased the power of big business and unions to influence government decisions Thursday by freeing them to spend their millions directly to sway elections for president and Congress.

As a side consequence, the election-season blizzard of ads on Americans TV screens is bound to increase.

The ruling reversed a century-long trend to limit the political muscle of corporations, organized labor and their massive war chests. It also recast the political landscape just as crucial midterm election campaigns are getting under way.

In its sweeping 5-4 ruling, the court set the stage for a wave of likely repercussions -- from new pressures on lawmakers to heed special interest demands to increasingly boisterous campaigns featuring highly charged ads that drown out candidate voices.

While the full consequences of the decision were hard to measure, politicians made clear whom they believed benefited. Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, condemned the decision while Republicans cheered it.

Still, more labor and corporate money in the political system could dilute the role of both political parties.

And the decision seeded the ground for further challenges to an already weakened system of campaign finance regulations.

The justices weighed two fundamental political forces -- the power of the central government and the concentration of corporate wealth -- and tilted decidedly in favor of the latter. The opinion by

Justice Anthony Kennedy made a vigorous argument based on the Constitution for the right of the public to be exposed to a multitude of ideas and against the ability of government to limit political speech, even in the interest of fighting corruption.

"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Kennedy wrote.

Strongly dissenting, Justice John Paul Stevens said, "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined Kennedy to form the majority in the main part of the case. …