Both parties oppose unlimited corporate spending on elections, poll finds

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Democrats and Republicans don't seem to agree on much these days, but a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows they come together on at least one issue: their opposition to letting corporations and unions spend as much as they want to help candidates win elections.

Eight in 10 respondents said they opposed a Supreme Court ruling last month that allows unfettered political spending by corporations, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The survey reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).

The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisan support on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are writing legislation that would limit the impact of the decision. The findings also pose a political challenge for GOP leaders, who have loudly praised the decision as a victory for the First Amendment.

Nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservative Republicans who were polled said they opposed the Supreme Court ruling, with most of them strongly opposed. About two-thirds of conservative Republicans also favor congressional efforts to limit corporate and union spending, though with less enthusiasm than liberal Democrats.

Indeed, the survey shows remarkably strong agreement about the ruling across all demographic groups, and big majorities of those with household incomes above and below $50,000 oppose the decision. Age, race and education levels appeared to have little relative bearing on the answers.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the high court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech and can therefore use their profits to support or oppose candidates. The decision appears to open the door to unlimited spending by corporations, trade groups and unions in the weeks leading up to an election -- which has been explicitly banned for decades.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) are drafting legislation aimed at limiting the ruling's impact, including a ban on political participation by foreign-owned corporations, bank bailout recipients and federal contractors. After the poll results were released Wednesday, Schumer said the issue is "one thing that Americans from the left, right and center can all agree on."

The questions about corporate political spending were included as part of a poll conducted Feb. 4 to 8 by conventional and cellular telephone. The margin of sampling error for the full survey of 1,004 randomly selected adults is plus or minus three percentage points.

How soda tax lost its fizz

Remember the soda tax?

Democratic lawmakers briefly toyed with the idea of taxing colas and other sugary drinks last year to help cover the cost of health-care reform. But the proposal quickly disappeared -- thanks in large part to a remarkable surge in lobbying by the food and beverage sector.

The American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and other major drink companies, spent less than $700,000 on lobbying in 2008. Last year, by contrast, the trade group reported lobbying expenditures increased to nearly $19 million.

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