Yes, unquestionably, Obama grossly mischaracterized the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Citizens United v FEC.
Despite the predictable muddle of misinformation and tortured sky-is-falling screeches from the left, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v FEC was constitutionally unassailable and long overdue. (For me anyway, the most distressing aspect of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision is that there were four dissenting justices at all, those being--not surprisingly--liberals Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsberg and Stevens.)
To briefly clarify, this ruling struck down that portion of the onerous McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, a woefully unconstitutional and deeply flawed “beltway fix”, which barred union and corporate-paid issue/advocacy ads in the closing days of election campaigns. It also overturned the 1990 Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce ruling by allowing corporations (both profit and non-profit), advocacy associations, organizations, unions, and other groups to directly spend from their own treasuries on political campaigns. Important to note is that while the Citizens United ruling allows these entities to finance political or advocacy ads, the prohibition on direct donations to candidates or their campaigns remains in place.
As even the liberal New York Times reported, “the core of the Citizens United decision said corporations have a First Amendment right to make independent expenditures in candidate elections” and that “only a constitutional amendment, which is exceedingly unlikely, could undo that core holding.” So, I gather that Obama and his minions, always the schemers, can forget effectively nullifying the ruling by executive fiat or congressional usurpation.
For purposes of definition, “contributions” are funds given directly to candidates for their campaigns; “independent expenditures” are funds spent by third parties on things like political ads without any coordination with the candidate. Thus, the court did not touch the ban on direct contributions to candidates. That is still in force. But, it correctly decided that the ban on independent political expenditures was unconstitutional.
In effect, the ruling overturned a federal ban on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, thus rejecting the proposition that government can decide who gets to speak and to ban some from speaking at all. The ruling found that speech rights under the First Amendment may not be dependent upon a speaker’s financial situation; that deep pockets alone cannot diminish a speaker’s First Amendment rights. As a Heritage Foundation analysis clear-headedly points out, the First Amendment “is written in terms of speech, not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speakers, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals…Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy. We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate.”
Of immediate concern to me is that despite Obama’s tasteless and ignorant scolding of SCOTUS during his State of the Union address earlier this week, the infusion of cash from foreign companies or foreign nationals is still prohibited by 2 USC Section 441a. This section of the law prohibits all “foreign nationals” inclusive of foreign corporations, from proffering “a contribution or donation of money or anything of value or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation in connection with federal, state or local elections.” So, contrary to Dear Leader’s assertion that this ruling would open the “floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections”, the unvarnished truth is that foreign corporations and individuals are absolutely and incontrovertibly prohibited from making any contribution or donation, directly or indirectly, to any committee of any political party and are forbidden from making any “expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication…” Got that, Barack?
And to ensure there were no unseemly loopholes, Heritage researchers affirm that “only US domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations can establish PACs, and only if these PAC’s donations and disbursements derive entirely from funds generated by US operations of the subsidiary and all decisions concerning the donations and disbursements are made by US citizens or permanent US residents.”
Though at first blush this ruling appears to unfairly subject our unwary electorate to the corrupting influences of deep-pocketed corporations, unions and other special interests, one must bear in mind that these special interests have been playing a huge and often corrosive roll in the political arena already, but often under the cover of darkness, e.g. billions of dollars in congressional earmarks, special tax breaks for political backers, backroom healthcare reform deals with AARP, SEIU, UAW, Merck, etc--and this without the electorate’s full knowledge. To my way of thinking, these secretive practices are, far and away, more sinister and corrupting than anything publicly aired corporate or union ads could possibly perpetrate on the American electorate.
At long last, the Citizens United ruling requires transparency, an apparently inimical governing concept these days, and real-time disclosure of the ads’ financiers, thus enabling a vigilant electorate to follow the money to easily determine which organizations and corporations may be in a particular candidate’s pocket or good graces whether it be the ACLU, AARP, big Pharma, Sierra Club, ACORN, NTA, IBM, NRA, NARAL, Goldman Sachs, AIG, or whatever. And given the explosion of information and the plethora of diverse opinions on the internet, corporate and union ads alone will be hard-pressed to easily misguide the electorate. Ah, the cleansing effect of sunlight.
What we need is more, not less, free speech. Clearly, an informed electorate can, over time and with a modicum of digging and attentiveness, easily distinguish sleaze from fact and separate out talking points from meaningful messaging. To deny Americans that right is dangerous and terribly shortsighted. As T. Jefferson asserted, “Errors in opinion may be tolerated where reason is left to combat it; information is the currency of democracy."
And for the strong 2nd amendment supporters among us, another benefit of this ruling is that groups like the NRA and firearms manufacturers can now finance ads in support of candidates which defend the Second Amendment. Also, American sugar refineries, for example, can openly support candidates who favor higher taxes on imported sugar, and Boeing can now spend money to support candidates who are fighting to keep the Air Force from awarding its refueling tanker contract to European companies, thus saving American jobs. So, under closer scrutiny, the economic and free speech benefits of this ruling far outweigh any possible perils to our Republic.
And though the perception is that Republicans garner more corporate support than Democrats, given that both parties are receiving huge amounts from corporations and interest groups already, one would have a very difficult time proving that this ruling somehow unfairly favors either side. For example, Goldman Sachs donated more money to Obama than to any other candidate and corporations were the number one donors to his campaign. The short of it is that Obama set the record for corporate donations, to say nothing of very generous donations from fat-cat union bosses. Thus, accusing SCOTUS of playing favorites is specious at best, blatantly dishonest at worst. Historical analysis clearly demonstrates that corporate donations are fairly evenly split (50.5% GOP v 49.5% Dem), although Dems far outpace Republicans when it comes to union donations.
Also, let’s not forget that those mean ‘ole corporations are groups of individuals who also have constitutional right--the workers, the CEOs, the shareholders. Individuals shouldn’t have to surrender their rights merely because they come together to magnify the effects of their donations. Think about this: George Soros, a dangerous socialist dingbat, can and has spent millions in support of socialist/Democratic policies and candidates, but when you and a hundred other citizens get together to spend your money for the same purpose that’s unfair? Twisted logic, indeed.
As George Will succinctly commented, “The dissemination of political speech requires money, so restricting money restricts free speech.” Pretty straightforward , I’d say.
Finally, to any but the leftist elites, Obama clearly owes the Supreme Court an apology for his boorishness and slander. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.
November 2010 and 2012 can’t come soon enough. Lord help us all and the Constitution ‘til then.
"The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." Thomas Jefferson
"It is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press, that as yet we have found it better to trust the public judgement, rather than the magistrate, with the discrimination between truth and falsehood. And hitherto the public judgment has performed that office with wonderful correctness." T. Jefferson)