The Republican National Committee strongly opposed the measure. Bush reluctantly signed it into law, but questioned its constitutionality. Its opponents spanned the ideological spectrum and included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Before the 2004 elections, the Supreme Court upheld the law by a 5-4 vote, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in the majority.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
Supreme Court: An article in Tuesday's Section A about the court's decision on challenges to corporate-funded political ads and President Bush's faith-based initiative quoted the 1st Amendment as saying, in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of religion." The amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech."
In Monday's ruling, the high court reversed course, with Alito casting the deciding vote. Alito succeeded O'Connor last year after she retired.
The ban on "soft money" was not challenged and is unaffected by the ruling, but the broadcast ban was badly undercut.
Roberts said broadcast ads that stopped short of urging the public to support or defeat a candidate were legal and could not be prohibited.
"The 1st Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it," the chief justice wrote in ruling on Federal Election Commission vs. Wisconsin Right to Life.
Although Roberts and the majority said the free-flowing ads were a vital part of democracy, Justice David H. Souter and the dissenters saw a threat to democracy from the huge amounts of money flowing into politics. In the 2000 election, more than $629 million was spent on television ads related to the elections, a record, according to the Brennan Center at New York University.
"The ban on contributions will mean nothing much, now that companies and unions can save candidates the expense of advertising directly," Souter said.
Several election-law experts called Monday's ruling a major development because it strengthened the free-speech rights of corporations.
The court's opinion "is a major victory for those who oppose campaign finance regulation," and it will lead to "a new proliferation of corporate- and union-funded campaigns ads in the 2008 election season," said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
"As a practical matter," said Ohio State law professor Edward B. Foley, "corporations received the victory that they did not achieve in 2003" when the law was initially upheld.