After the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down a host of free speech restrictions, the Washington establishment responded with a conniption fit that has been rendered hilarious after only two years of history.
Incumbent politicians, The New York Times, a crash of tenured law professors, and even President Barack Obama (in a remarkable breach of State of the Union Address decorum) denounced the decision as a "new weapon" for lobbyists, a "major upheaval in First Amendment law," and an undermining of "the influence of average Americans," not to mention "skeptical and even sarcastic."
But as we enter the second year of the 2012 campaign, it’s already clear that removing legal restrictions on the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances has done about what you would expect such a deregulation to do: allowed more voices, issues, and ideas into a political marketplace that nobody—except party bosses and newspapers that have lost their monopolies—could legitimately want to restrict.
Here are just five ways Citizens United has opened up the 2012 campaign:
5. More Competitive GOP Presidential Race
Not so long ago—as recently as 2008 in fact—the only non-anointed candidate capable of staying in a primary race over the long haul was Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Hillary Clinton did manage to stay in the primary fight against Barack Obama, but by this point in 2008 most of the Republicans—including this year’s front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—were long gone.
That would almost certainly have been the case this year for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, had the Supreme Court voted to uphold campaign speech and finance restrictions in 2010. It’s an open question how much the nation’s political consciousness is being raised by having Santorum push for pornography bans and Gingrich denounce hedge fund managers for expropriating the surplus labor value of the proletariat. But having both men in the race has forced Romney to defend his positions and explain the many inconsistencies in his record.