Supreme Court and Campaign Finance
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is being extolled or excoriated as the end of McCain/Feingold type campaign finance reform. There are many places to go for extended analysis and I won’t even pretend to understand the intricacies of the legal arguments. However, Matt Welch’s explanation is the most cogent I’ve seen:
Free speech really does mean free speech, and the laws that the “Citizens” ruling overturned directly and heinously restricted the stuff. Forget for the moment the broad characterization of the ruling — such as The New York Times claim that it “sweep[s] aside a century-old understanding” — and drill down to the individual case in question.
Citizens United, a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has funded a dozen political documentaries over the years, produced a critical documentary about Hillary Clinton in 2008 entitled “Hillary: The Movie.” By a decision of the federal government, which was enforcing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known more broadly as McCain-Feingold), this piece of political speech was banned from television.
Let’s boil it down to the essential words: Political documentary, banned, government.
You don’t have to be a First Amendment purist to intuit that political speech was, if anything, the most urgent subcategory covered by the First Amendment’s “Congress shall pass no law” restrictions. And you don’t have to be a Hillary-hater to imagine the shoe on the other foot. What if MoveOn.org’s 501(c)(4), Campaign to Defend America, had been blocked by George W. Bush’s Federal Elections Commission from broadcasting “McCain: The Movie”? Wouldn’t that stink, too?