The following is part 1 of 3 in a series of articles defending ideas that are at the same time both unpopular, but in the best interests of the country.
The 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission is at the same time one of the most widely revered and disdained rulings in recent memory. The 5-4 ruling decreed that parts of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly referred to as McCain-Feingold) violated the First Amendment.
The nonprofit group Citizens United wanted to air advertisements for a film that was critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during television broadcasts. Suffice to say, the Court decided in favor of Citizens United. The results of this ruling have since sent shocks across the countries political nervous system.
Bottom Line: The court decided that limiting the amount of money that individuals, corporations and unions could spend on a political cause or campaign inherently violated the First Amendment. To force campaign spending to be equal or close to, the federal government would have to clamp down on some people who wished to spend more, and use that money to voice their opinion.
The First Amendment was designed to protect speech from government intervention, no matter how popular, unpopular or well funded it may be. The attempts made to curtail political spending and donations from outside sources may have been well intentioned, but it had the same ramifications as the disastrous Fairness Doctrine.
The Supreme Court got it right in the 2010 Citizens United ruling. They did it again on Monday when they decreed that the Citizens United decision applied to state politics as well.
Allowing corporations big and small to voice an opinion frightens politicians, especially the political left. Well-entrenched parties like big money in politics, but only if it comes from their own personal backers.
For years, billionaire George Soros helped to fund Democratic groups and campaigns at the local, state and federal level. When he could not cut a check directly, he would fund smaller groups, such as ACORN. He’s also been known to fund many different unions, many of which donate a portion of their union dues to the Democratic Party. (Detractors of this claim that candidates of both major parties receive donations, however the number is severely lopsided.)
The Citizens United ruling leveled the playing field, just like the repealing of the Fairness Doctrine did for radio and television. Liberals have been trying to reverse that one for years, mainly because it opened up the free market and ended their dominance in both talk radio and television news.
Those that believe the Citizens United ruling was disastrous for the country probably do not credit the American public with an over-abundance of brains. If they assume that voters will be mindlessly swayed by fancy political ads funded by private money, why would they assume that voters could exercise sound judgment when those ads are not present? It’s insulting to the American public.
Free speech is an essential function of democracy. It doesn’t matter how loud it is. It doesn’t matter if someone thinks it’s fair. The First Amendment was designed to protect all speech, whether it’s religious, scientific, cultural or political.
Those that don’t like it cry judicial activism. Judicial activism occurs when a judge or panel of judges throw statutory or constitutional meaning out the window and decide instead to impose their own views. The court upheld the First Amendment rather than run it through a document shredder.
They believe that political ads and other expenditures are not speech. This wholly vapid argument may sound smart, but holds absolutely no merit. If the government could suddenly decide to curtail spending on political ads, where would it go next? Would the Washington Post suddenly be banned for paying for its advertising, distribution, and writing? The right to broadcast any viewpoint should be protected at all costs, no matter what the vehicle a person, corporation, nonprofit or union may use.
Those on the left don’t seem to mind when political messages come from charismatic actors, comedians or authors. Only if it comes from a big bad corporation or a wealthy conservative do they have a hissy fit about it.
Whenever the government tries to limit speech of any kind, the options as to where an individual may get their information from and what sources are okay to listen to with the threat of criminal action, it’s a violation of the First Amendment. It’s wrong, and it’s immoral.
The naysayers will continue to say that the Koch Brothers and other wealthy corporations and individuals will simply buy the elections, as opposed to say unions, which often donated their members union dues to the party of their choosing, whether their members approved or not.
Commentators on networks owned by Comcast and Newscorp can broadcast their opinion with impunity. GE, Exxon Mobile, and Ford can now do the same, and their mouthpieces are probably not nearly as annoying.
The Supreme Court knocked it out of the park, both in 2012 and their reinforcement of it on Monday. With the Citizens United ruling, it became anybody’s ballgame. The left and right both have Super PACs now, and the majority of their donors are private citizens. Elections have become more competitive. Rather than being overrun, the people can voice their opinions more than ever before.
Let the games begin!