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).
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.”
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.