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The Supreme Court may have ushered in a new era of restrictions on political advertising last week, but it has done little to stop the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from getting its message out. The Court on Dec. 10 ruled that advocacy groups like the Chamber are prohibited from using corporate or union dollars for television and radio ads that specifically mention a candidate in the weeks leading up to an election. William Miller, the Chamber’s political director, says his group is already tapping alternatives — from the Internet to lower-tech options. “I think direct mail will clearly be more important,” says Miller, whose group was a plaintiff in the challenge to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. “Telephoning will be more important, full-page ads in [newspapers] will be more important, billboards, yard signs.” The Chamber is just one of many groups looking for alternatives to TV and radio ads to carry its positions. The law curbs ads in the 60 days before a general election and the 30 days before a primary. With the Iowa caucus on Jan. 19 and the New Hampshire primary scheduled for Jan. 27, the clock is running. And while many of these groups were caught off guard by the decision, some advocates say the alternatives could actually be more effective than the banned mass-media venues. “We had already shifted our strategy” before the new campaign finance laws, says Kerri Glover of the Sierra Club. “There has been a lot of research in the last few years that the paid advertising is less and less effective. . . . The Internet is something else we’re doing more of.” This year, Glover says, the Sierra Club already has beefed up its e-mailings to voters. Last month, the environmental group started sending out a regular e-mail called “Raw: The Uncooked Facts of the Bush Assault on the Environment,” which focuses on the Bush administration’s record on environmental matters. The Chamber of Commerce has a Web site, www.voteforbusiness.com, that provides information on candidates and helps people register to vote. Brett Kappel, a partner in the government relations practice at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy, would see that as money well-spent. “What we’ve seen in the ’90s, with the advent of the negative issue ads, is that they get undecided voters disgusted, and they don’t go to the polls at all,” says Kappel, who focuses on campaign finance matters and lobbying at Powell, Goldstein. “Money now is going to go to get-out-the-vote efforts to get core supporters to the polls.” The Chamber of Commerce’s Miller adds that the group — which represents 3 million businesses and spent $20 million last year, according to lobbying disclosure records — invested heavily in TV and radio advertising for congressional races in 2000. “In 2002, we spent less money, but spent more on getting out the vote, and our results were much better,” Miller says. GETTING PERSONAL Since 2002, the Chamber also has put 50 workers in 32 states to organize local business leaders and community members. “A more-personal, localized approach to the elections is something that is effective — more effective than technology,” Miller says. The League of Conservation Voters is also planning a more-personal touch in 2004. “We have gotten away from face-to-face and gotten in a bad habit of just bombarding voters with TV and mail,” says Mark Longabaugh, senior vice president for political affairs at the league. “In 2004, in the battleground presidential states, we are building a large grass-roots [network]. We aren’t going to abandon TV and paid ads, but we are going door to door.” The Internet, already an important tool for lobbying groups, now looks even more appealing — at least as a way to make initial contact with voters. “The immediate thing is, the Internet is going to grow tremendously as a campaign tool,” says Kappel. And Brian Reich of Mindshare Internet Campaigns says the Supreme Court’s decision was “like a 10th anniversary present for the Internet.” Adds Reich: “The Internet is the best opportunity for these types of organizations to get their message out. “It means a lot for our business.” Not everyone sees a positive side in the law, though. David Thompson, a partner at Cooper & Kirk, represented the National Rifle Association, which fought the legislation. “There’s a reason that Congress criminalized criticism on the airwaves — because everyone agrees that TV is the more effective” means of communication, Thompson says. David Keating, executive director of the Club for Growth, says his conservative pro-business group “hadn’t bothered studying other options because we thought the Court was going to strike down” those portions dealing with restrictions on ads. He says the Club for Growth will look into Internet, phone, and direct mail options, but says, “They are not as effective as broadcast.” Keating also notes that, after the Supreme Court’s decision, he immediately drafted a letter to his 13,500 members asking them to contribute to the group’s political action committee. “We’re not happy about [the decision],” he says. “But we’re great at raising hard money.” PAC money, like all hard dollars, is more important now, lobbying groups say. “The practical effect is corporations and trade associations are going to have to dramatically increase their PAC fund raising,” Kappel says. Groups can still run campaign ads — even endorsements — explains Kenneth Gross from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “You just can’t use corporate or labor money to do it,” he says. But you can use PAC money. John Merrigan, a lobbyist at Piper Rudnick and a Democratic fund-raiser, says his firm saw this coming and has already grown its PAC to $1 million for this election cycle. “We actually recognized that a lot of this was coming,” he says. “We have the largest law firm PAC in the country. We did it specifically because we realized that hard money would be more valuable post-campaign finance reform.” Miller, of the Chamber of Commerce, sees opportunity: “Very smart people that are involved in the elections will find ways to make this set of rules work best for them.”

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