Citizens United Turns One Year Old! Are We Better, Worse Off Thanks to It? Was It "Our Dred Scott"?

So the Citizens United Supreme Court decision turns one year old. Watch the vid above for "3 Reasons Not to Sweat the Citizens United SCOTUS Ruling."

Those of you with superhuman powers of memory will recall the massive hullabaloo over the ruling, which allowed corporations, unions, and others to participate more fully in political ad-making and whatnot. It was without question a win for more political speech rather than less. Which is always a good thing.

Folks such as Keith Olbermann had their knickers in a twist, even calling the decision "our Dred Scott," meaning... well, it wasn't quite clear. His MSNBC cohort Rachel Madow said it meant the end of regular-guy participation in the electoral process since now Exxon and Walmart could just appoint politicians thanks to the massive amount of money corporations (but not unions) would now pour directly into campaign advertising. Or something like that. Even President Obama got into the mix, attacking the ruling in last year's State of the Union address, saying it would "open the floodgates" to "special interest spending" in politics. Wow.

At the center of the case was whether a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton created by a nonprofit could be aired on the teevee with 30 days of a primary. Actually, what was at the center of the case was the stupidity of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance laws that clearly limited the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech in the name of regulating "electioneering communications." The ruling said that restrictions on non-profit and for-profit corporations (a designation that covers virtually all organized political activity) making independent political statements were unconstitutional. It was unambiguously a blow for free-er speech (though it did uphold some other stupid aspects of campaign-finance laws).

Read more about it here.

Here's the conclusion of a great feature story on the law by Jacob Sullum:

Less than a week after Citizens United, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) gave a speech on the floor of the House in which she explained why she was introducing a constitutional amendment aimed at reversing the decision. “If the [corporations don’t] like what this congresswoman is doing,” she said, “they’ll just forget the voters, buy TV ads, send robocalls, send a lot of mail, and beat her in November. A law won’t fix this; we have to fix it in the Constitution.” Can corporations really “forget the voters” when the whole point of their TV ads, robocalls, and direct mail is to convince voters that Congress would be a better institution without Donna Edwards?

This may be one of those occasions when the corporations are right. The last thing Congress needs is yet another legislator who equates her own electoral prospects with the fate of the republic, let alone one who wants to amend the Constitution so that it better serves her political career. But even when the arguments for requiring balance in political debate have a less self-interested tinge, there is no escaping the fact that we are discussing the merits of censorship, a debate the Framers thought they had settled. “What these guys are basically saying,” [former FEC head Bradley] Smith observes, “is ‘we don’t like the First Amendment because we don’t like the speech of particular people.’ Essentially they’re pitting their wisdom against the wisdom of the Founders. The basic idea of the First Amendment was that this is the kind of thing we really don’t trust the government to do.”

More here.

Reason on Citizens United here.

And below is a rollicking argument I had on Bill Moyers Journal with anti-Citizens United law professor Lawrence Lessig on whether the ruling was good or bad for political discussion in these United States. Watch through to the end for a rousing declaration of how a rag-tag gang of libertarian utopians may just pull off the caper of the century and force the government to peform its limited functions well and leave us alone the rest of the time.

As always, go to Reason.tv for more vids and downloadable versions of all we do.

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  • Almanian||

    How The Jacket prevented itself from leaping across the table to choke both Lessig and Moyers to death in a fit of involuntary service to mankind is an object lesson in self-restraint and an example for us all.

    Thank you, The Jacket, for showing us that it is possible to control our impulses, even in the face of the most-trying conditions.

  • The Jacket||

    With great power comes great responsibility.

  • Almanian||

    *averts eyes and mouths "I am not worthy"*

  • chonymax||

    Corporayshuns are not peepul!

  • ||

    Even President Obama got into the mix, attacking the ruling in last year's State of the Union address

    That reminds me: it will be interesting to see how many, and which, Justices show up this year.

    I'm going with 3: Kagan and Soyomayor (of course), and Breyer.

  • ||

    Money can buy elections!!!!!
    That is why the corporate tool Meg Whitman, who spent well in excess of 100 MILLION dollars is now the GOVENATOR of California, part of a vast hidden conspricy to make the whole state an enclave for the Hollywood elite.
    Sure, maybe a better candidate than quirky, old, irrasible Jerry Brown would have stood more of a chance, but with that massive amount of money, and the stoopid people who BELIEVE everything on TV (except on MSNBC, where they believe everything because it is TRUE) we now have e-bay selling immigrant children organs to fund a bounty on whales.
    If only Meg Whitman and her big BIG money could be defeated... by ideas...or principals...or something, we could still have this freedom thingy...

    Jerry Brown is govenor!???!?!?! Meg is obviously paying him...

  • ||

    Don't forget two term Presidents Ross Perot and Steve Forbes!

  • Bee Tagger||

    Impressive, within 5 seconds Lessig had uttered the equivalent of "I support free speech, BUT.."

  • tarran||

    I was struck by Lawrence Lessig's repeated expression that funding of speech needed to be restricted to satisfy the end that Congress be respected by the people.

    Why is that the end? So what if people hold Congress in utter contempt? What's the harm?

  • Sam Grove||

    People should distrust congress, 24/7.

  • ||

    Ah, Citizens United: the issue that TEAM BLUE was making itself look like unprincipled scumbags about before the Tucson shooting gave them a new thing to make themselves look like unprincipled scumbags about. Remember those days? Good times.

  • Old Mexican||

    Folks such as Keith Olbermann had their knickers in a twist, even calling the decision "our Dred Scott," meaning... well, it wasn't quite clear.




    I disagree - it was quite clear: It was clear Olberman had NO GRASP on the subject he was talking about.

  • -||

    He never will. His view of mankind is one of stupid sheep who need smart and benevolent shepherds (him and Maddow et al). They're misanthropes pretending to be humanitarians.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    And the "...murder of what little democracy left in this democracy" stuff is hilarious.

    If America was EVER a Democracy, there would be no such thing as free speech. All speech would be subject to a vote and just about eveything would be illegal to say.

  • ||

    This is an important point. The left is in general okay with people speaking out whenever it helps them chase entitlements, but when it means they speak out against paying for those entitlements, they're all opposed.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Only tangentially related...but interesting.

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/26594

    Wilson says he was surprised that income would correlate negatively with niceness, but, on reflection, it made sense in light of another project he's involved with: It's called "Design Your Own Park," and it engages neighbors to band together and take over a vacant lot, transforming it into a nice park. "Some of the people in low-income neighborhoods are the most amazing networkers that I have ever seen," Wilson writes. On the other hand, "some of the so-called 'nicer' neighborhoods are sadly inert. Each family keeps a tidy home and lawn and doesn’t make trouble for the others, but positive social connections are almost non-existent."
  • Colonel_Angus||

    "positive social connections are almost non-existent"

    Oh for fuck's sake.

  • ||

    The question then is, how many vacant lots exist in these nice neighborhoods? How many don't already have a nice, well maintained public park nearby?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Neu Mejican,

    "Wilson says he was surprised that income would correlate negatively with niceness, but, on reflection, it made sense in light of another project he's involved with: It's called 'Design Your Own Park,' and it engages neighbors to band together and take over a vacant lot, transforming it into a nice park."


    I especially like the term "take over", as reminds me of the era of Attila, and Timur The Lame... Good times, good times.

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    Maybe the people who had more money in this case just didn't care personally about parks? No, that can't be it. It has to be that they're selfish assholes.

  • ||

    Maybe the people in the nicer neighborhoods have jobs and less time?

  • Neu Mejican||

    The money quote for discussions around here...

    Do many years of such exposure make us forget how to cooperate for good, as Wilson suggests? Maybe. But maybe there's a bit more innate flexibility in the human psyche. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more people are volunteering in community organizations across the United States since the economic crisis began. That hints that when people have forgotten how to cooperate, they can remember—if someone just takes the money away.
  • West Coaster||

    ...if someone just takes the money away.

    Disclaimer: Anecdotal info only...

    My wife was out-of-work for over a year. Yes, her/our income went way down. And yes, she became more involved in things at our sons' high schools, volunteering in various ways. But that was more a function of the fact that, after spending time doing the job-finding thing, she had more *spare time* to do those volunteer things.

  • West Coaster||

    Should have added: One of my wife's volunteer roles was to be on the board a booster group. The board president ultimately was the "who you know" connection that got my wife her new job. Volunteering = networking?

  • cynical||

    Sole Access > Shared Access > No Access, in terms of personal utility. Poor people don't have the option of sole access, so they are more inclined to pick the better of the two remaining options. It's not terribly shocking. But unless you assume that cooperation has intrinsic value (rather than judging it by what it can achieve), I'm not sure why it suggests that poverty is better.

  • ||

    I see. The best way to promote virtue is to assure continued massive unemployment. That's like what my church used to tell me, back when I still attended: the poor are actually better off than the rich, because they humbly serve and thus have a better chance to get into heaven. Obviously there are benefits here below as well.

    To keep America great, we need to maintain unemployment figures in the double-digit range. When employment figures regrettably but inevitably improve, we can then compensate by sharply lowering the minimum wage.

    Just think. With a steady baseline of poverty, the country will be awash in virtuous compassion.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Axman,

    I see. The best way to promote virtue is to assure continued massive unemployment.

    No, I have to correct you - he's not saying that. Only that having a lot of money makes one an uncooperative, self-absorbed individualist. No, his true thoughs show up in this statement: "if someone just takes the money away."

    So there you have it: You don't need to have massive unemployment to compel people to "remember" their cooperative meme, you just have to "take their money", as in MASSIVE TAXATION, MASSIVE REGULATION, BIG GOVERNMENT. Ta-da!!!!

  • cynical||

    Well, sometimes a financial crisis brings out the best in people -- but that doesn't mean that later, when people find out who caused that hardship in the first place, well...

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Neu Mejican,

    That hints that when people have forgotten how to cooperate, they can remember—if someone just takes the money away.




    "We all know that Division of Labor and Voluntary Exchange is not 'real' cooperation because money is icky."

  • hmm||

    The proof is, or will be in the pudding, and so far considering the recent election it looks like you need more than money to win an election.

  • Meg Whitman||

    Now you tell me. I could have bought five more mansions and hired a better hairdresser.

  • ||

    Citizens United was the perfect compliment to the Tea Party in ending the establishment parties' hold on elections. I can't think of anything better than bypassing the apparatus that has failed the country so miserably.

  • hmm||

    I think that's a bit of wishful thinking. There are still huge local, state, and even private obstacles in place to any party that isn't R or D.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    This wouldn't be [as much of?] an issue had some fucktards not made an issue of Hillary: The Movie.

  • shrike||

    Only a Christ-fag would say that.

  • Olbermann||

    That's right-wing hate speech, being against forbidding the release of Hillary: The Movie.

  • ||

    I saw a picture of Washington, DC on the teevee, this morning.

    I was, quite frankly, amazed to see a complete absence of burnt-out government buildings, zombie cannibals, or top-hatted Rapacious Corporate Masters.

    What a gyp.

  • hmm||

    Sorry. I had an extended bathroom break. I'm back out there polishing my monocle.

  • Almanian||

    "Polishing my monocle" - is that what the kids are calling it these days?

  • sevo||

    Lessig seems to believe speech can be limited for PR reasons. He had no gripes about the money itself, just his hypothesized effect on how people might see congress.
    If you're going to limit speech, for pete's sake make an argument from actual damage, not you fantasy about how people might feel.

  • Tony||

    a rousing declaration of how a rag-tag gang of libertarian utopians may just pull off the caper of the century and force the government to peform its limited functions well and leave us alone the rest of the time.

    I knew you were just a bunch of oligarchs. Most people don't want your utopian vision!

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Most people are getting what they deserve. By their own doing.

  • ||

    Most people don't want your utopian vision!

    You mean, "most people want to steal from their neighbor!"

  • ||

    The people want coercion, so the people get coercion!

  • Tony||

    Fortunately democracy is not trumped by the moral preoccupations of a small group of idealists.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony,

    Fortunately democracy is not trumped by the moral preoccupations of a small group of idealists.




    That's only because it's already co-opted by a small group of rent-seeking opportunists (i.e. unions, special interest groups, corporations, etc.)

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony,

    I knew you were just a bunch of oligarchs. Most people don't want your utopian vision!




    "Most people are sheep, and only *I* can presume to know what the people want!"

    [Thunderous, standing applause by the whole politburo]

  • Tony, translated||

    Most people don't want your utopian vision... they want OUR utopian vision.

  • ola||

    Nick, would it be better to take law classes from the cross-eyed Erwin Chemerinsky or from the cocksucking Lawrence Lessig? Your reaction.

  • Rimfax||

    Lessig seems to be convinced that the fever is causing the disease. He has turned causality on its head to conclude that the lobbyists are causing Congressional favoritism.

  • Josh||

    Ug. Lessig is 90% idiot. Why is he talking about this stuff?

    Let him stick to IP where he might have a small bit to add.

  • Fin||

    What a fool. If only money had no influence in politics corruption would go away! Ofcourse, but you're never going to get that with a government as large and discretionary as we have. Lessig sounds like the utopian here.

  • NotAJew||

    If I were gay, I'd totally hit Larry the Lessig. Sorry Nick.

  • Bradley||

    Dred Scott. Citizens United. Jared Loughner.

    CONNECT THE DOTS people!!!111

  • CC Truckston||

    The way for Congress to maintain its independence from lobbyists, corporations, and other influences, is to limit congressional terms (4-years for representatives and 6 years for Senators) to one during a lifetime. Senators and representatives would be able to vote their consciences without worrying about reelection.

  • Tony||

    Might the people have an interest in reelecting members in order to draw on their experience? Seems undemocratic to restrict voters' choices in this way, not to mention highly disruptive to governance. Worrying about reelection is a good way to get officeholders to pay attention to the needs of their constituents. It would be good if that were more of a factor than paying attention to the needs of donors--many congresspeople have voices strong annoyance with having to constantly be fundraising.

  • DesigNate||

    Except we don't live in a democracy.

  • Alex||

    I love the train of thought taken by the professor and those like him. Let's see if I can get this right:

    Take a position that the government has the power to interfere widely in the economy. But this causes a problem that corporations try to influence government because it wields so much power in the economy. So the solution is not to say the government should have limited power to influence the economy, but instead, the solution should be we should limit speech in order to allow the government to continue to interfere widely in the economy without corporate/citizen influence.

    Once again, these statists show their inherent wickedness. These statist scumbags, if they had lived in any number of communist nations, would not have merely stood on the sideline indifferent to the horrors government perpetrated on human beings, but they would have taken part, they would have fired the guns/starved people to death, themselves.

    Cocksuckers.

  • Corey S.||

    Lessig: Free speech is good. But sometimes it causes people to lose faith in their government. Therefore, we must limit free speech.

    The big flaw here is the notion people should have faith in their government. If Lessig is right, and people will (finally) lose faith in their government, this would be a good thing.

    The other problem with Lessig is that he wants Congress to be responsive to "the people" and not to special interests. His claim that if we had the public funding of elections, Congress would have no incentive to grant handouts to special interests is wrong. He's clearly never heard of Mancur Olson. Even if all elections were publicly funded, the only people who'd spend their time trying to influence government would be the ones who have a stake in the game. Diffused costs, concentrated benefits, etc.

  • Bradley||

    Public funding for political parties sucks. We have it here in Canada and it hasn't slowed the corporatist gravy train one bit.

    But for some reason, the greatest aspiration of US liberals is for the United States to make exactly the same mistakes as other countries have made. I can't figure it out.

  • ||

    Nobody likes a backseat driver. Let the experts handle it.

  • ||

    One of the stupider things to emerge from Lessig's mouth is around the 26:00 mark, when he compares judicial recusal rules to campaign finance regulations.

  • Sam Grove||

    Lessig overlooks the fact that congress controls spending, the courts do not.

    Political control of resources creates corrupting incentives.

  • GILMORE||

    It seems to me the big gaping hole in Lessig's argument is that congress would ever WANT 'independence'.

    e.g.

    Alex|1.21.11 @ 2:57PM|#

    So the solution is not to say the government should have limited power to influence the economy, but instead, the solution should be we should limit speech in order to allow the government to continue to interfere widely in the economy without corporate/citizen influence.

    Thats basically it.

    He confuses the influence on power with the nature of the power. He doesn't think there should be limits on congressional power - just on any variety of independent interests who might potentially influence it.

    It seems to rely on the assumption that an unchecked government ultimately does good things.

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