Supreme Court Ruling: What’s in it for Public Relations

My objective here is to provide some comment on the January 21 decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the laws that prevent private companies and labor unions from spending unlimited amounts of money to promote candidates for federal office.  It’s a First Amendment issue.

This is a public relations blog, so I had planned to give my thoughts on what impact — if any — the high court’s decision had on the profession, its practice and those of us who work in the industry.  One problem: I can’t find the actual decision.

Visit the official site for the court.  Granted, no a work of art, but functional.  I searched but could not locate the complete ruling.  Maybe it’s not up there yet?

So, here’s a few thoughts:

1.  Reading news accounts, I learned from a piece in today’s print edition of the Chicago Tribune — yes, I still subscribe to a newspaper; always will — the ruling overturns a 1907 law that prevented corporations and unions from paying the costs related to “broadcast ads, campaign workers or billboards” that supported or were against someone running for a federal office.  I could not find any reporting related to print, direct mail, social media or — public relations services.

2. It’s gratifying to learn that the justices preserved two elements of the law.  Those prohibit corporations and unions from donating directly to candidates, and all “campaign ads” must disclose the the organization that paid for the advertising.  As a staunch proponent of open disclosure, does that mean campaign workers have to disclose who is paying them to go door-to-door or pass out palm cards at subway stations?

3.  The major dissenting argument against the court’s decision centers on this: Those entities with deep pockets now can bankroll a campaign for federal office.  That, the dissenters claim, is an affront on democracy.  We’ll see.  But since I could  not read the actual court decision, can a public relations campaign be mounted to communicate on behalf of a candidate not “sponsored” by Big Pharma, Big Oil or Big Labor?

4. So what, if anything, does the high court’s decision mean for public relations?  Not sure, but wonder if corporations and unions can fund campaigns: Could it lead to more business for PR practitioners, greater understanding  of public relations as a management practice and greater awareness for the value of public relations?

Finally, I’m proud to note that a message I sent to a leading public relations professional here, Ron Culp Partner and Managing Director at Ketchum, led to this post on his blog.   Thanks Ron.

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