1 Year Later: Citizens United and Free Speech
Today marks the one year anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. In today's Washington Post, Citizens United President David Bossie and lead counsel in the lawsuit Ted Olson penned an op-ed looking at the impact the decision has made in terms of free speech and the rhetoric from the left which has attempted to vilify the decision as being anti free speech and overturning a "a hundred years" of precedents.
Key sections from the op-ed:
On the background leading up to the case:
The case arose in 2007, when Citizens United, a grass-roots membership organization, sought to broadcast a film critical of Hillary Clinton, then a candidate for president. The Federal Election Commission deemed the film too critical to be shown in the weeks before an election; if Citizens United had broadcast it, its officers would have been subject to prosecution and potential imprisonment for up to five years. The Supreme Court struck down this prohibition of corporate and labor union election-time speech about candidates as a violation of the First Amendment. To the court's majority, it was "stranger than fiction for our Government to make . . . political speech a crime."
On the attacks from President Obama and Sen. Schumer:
Stranger still were the unwarranted attacks against the Supreme Court that followed. Most visibly, the president used his State of the Union address to accuse the court of having "reversed a century of law" and "open[ed] the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections." That statement was astonishing because none of it was true: The oldest decision reversed by Citizens United was 20 years old, not 100, and foreign corporations are prohibited from participating in elections, just as they were before. As for "special interests," many had been spending at an equally furious rate, apparently unnoticed by the president, well before this ruling.
Still, the attacks continued: Sen. Charles Schumer accused the court of attempting to "predetermine the outcome of next November's elections," handing them to "Corporate America and other special interests." And when the November elections brought grim tidings to many Democratic officeholders, those candidates blamed not themselves nor their unpopular policies but the court. "Clearly the Citizens United decision decided this race," said a freshly defeated Rep. Dan Maffei. Sen. Arlen Specter went so far as to blame Citizens United not only for his rejection at the ballot box but also for "effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote."
On the real financial impact of Citizens United:
Still, the amount citizen groups spent in 2010 pales next to these enormous sums: $1.35 billion spent by the two major political parties and an additional $1.8 billion by candidates for Congress. While citizens making independent expenditures increased their election spending to nearly $300 million in 2010, that remains less than one-tenth of the more than $3 billion spent by political parties and their candidates.
So why all the hysteria from incumbents? Perhaps because independent spending by citizens has shifted away from Democratic candidates. In 2006, liberal interest groups tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics outspent conservative interest groups by a 2-to-1 margin. By 2010, the trend had reversed, and conservative groups were outspending the liberal groups 2 to 1.
What they see as the lasting impact of the Citizens United decision:
As the Supreme Court has ruled, Congress should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas and placing its thumb on the scale of federal elections. In Citizens United, the court reminded us that when our government seeks "to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought." The government argued in Citizens United that it could ban books advocating the election of a candidate if they were published by a corporation or labor union. Today, thanks to Citizens United, we may celebrate that the First Amendment confirms what our forefathers fought for: "the freedom to think for ourselves."
It is important to look at the impact of what this decision will mean for future campaigns and the development of any potential attacks on free speech. The entire op ed is worth reading and getting an understanding of what else they view as being the main impact of this decision on the political world. While, the left has attempted to vilify the decision the facts don't match up to their rhetoric. It will be interesting to see what else the left and their special interests will attempt to once again stifle free speech.