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WaPo’s Misleading Campaign Finance Poll

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll claims that a large majority of Americans in both parties oppose the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling that loosened some of the rules in campaign finance law. The February 17th Dan Eggen WaPo story reports that “Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent ‘strongly’ opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.”

But a quick look at the actual poll questions shows that the Post misrepresented the Court’s actual ruling. The researchers asked, “Do you support or oppose the ruling that says corporations and unions can spend as much money as they want to help political candidates win elections?” Not surprisingly, 80 percent of responders said “No.” Likewise, 72 percent of responders agreed that they would “support…an effort by Congress to reinstate limits on corporate and union spending on election campaigns.”

But as Andrew Odell of the Heritage Foundation explains, “[a] corporation desiring to contribute directly to political candidates cannot do so except through a political action committee that is funded by voluntary contributions from corporate management in compliance with an extensive regulatory scheme that the Court left untouched.” Unfortunately, the many news outlets that reported on the case neglected to explain this clear distinction.

With questions that unrepresentative of the law, can you really blame the responders? Most were not attorneys or scholars of constitutional law, but casual observers of news and politics, so when a question is framed in that manner, it is hardly surprising that 80 percent would answer in the way they did.