Sunday, January 31, 2010

Citizen United vs. F. E. C.

Imagine someone told you that the government banned a movie during a presidential campaign because this movie talked about that candidate in a bad light. Imagine that the government decided it had the power to prevent a book from being published if it was a 500 page work of fiction and the last sentence said, "Vote for Joe Blow for President". Would you think that was acceptable? Or would you argue that both the movie and the book should be protected under the First Amendment?

Despite what you may have read or heard in the media, this was the heart of the case Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. Citizens United is a conservative charity that had made a film called "Hillary: the Movie". Here is how the website for the movie describes it:

Hillary The Movie is complete! The movie you’ve been waiting for is here and exploding onto the scene! With nearly 40 in-depth interviews with experts, opinion makers, and many of the people who personally locked horns with the Clintons, this is the film you need!

The cast to end all casts includes: Dick Morris, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, Jeff Gerth, Buzz Patterson, Michael Barone, Billy Dale, Cyrus Nowrasteh, Tony Blankley, Dick Armey, Bay Buchanan, Joe Connor, Mark Levin, Frank Gaffney, Peter Paul, Gary Aldrich, Dan Burton, John Mica, Michael Medved, Kathleen Willey, Kate O’Beirne, Larry Kudlow and more!

If you want to hear about the Clinton scandals of the past and present, you have it here!

Hillary The Movie is the first and last word in what the Clintons want America to forget!

Obviously, this movie was not going to be flattering to Mrs. Clinton. Citizens United wanted to air commercials promoting the movie before the Democratic Primaries. However, under McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, because the group was promoting this film 30 days prior to a primary it was illegal. In other words, the government had the power to regulate what commercials were being aired prior to an election.

Citizens United fought this in court. As time and court hearings came and went, they picked up an unusual group of supporters. You would probably not be surprised to find that Citizens Untied is a conservative non-profit group, or that both the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute were supporting Citizens United in their fight. After all, conservatives stick together right? What may surprise you is that groups such as the ACLU, AFL-CIO, and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press were also supporting Citizens United. The President's temper-tantrum during the State of the Union last week didn't make it sound like there was bipartisan support for this case, but there was.

Bradley Smith points out that, "The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional." The court did not address political spending by foreign countries, or by businesses that are headquartered overseas. There are other sections of the law that covers that and those sections have not been affected by this ruling. What the court found particularly offensive is the broad power the FEC had taken on to ban books, tv spots, or movies that discuss political candidates prior to elections. Shouldn't every voter be concerned with this?

Our nation has a rich heritage of political discourse. Sometimes this is done on TV, sometimes in pamphlets, sometimes in newspapers. Sometimes they're funded by private individuals, sometimes non-profit groups, and sometimes companies. But all of this is protected free speech. This is the very speech our founders tried to protect. Robert Robb points out today that:

No one would argue, for example, that because a corporation is not an individual, the Fifth Amendment's protection against the taking of property without just compensation doesn't apply to it, or the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. How can corporations be entitled to some of the protections in the Bill of Rights but not others?

I've read a number of articles that have said in reality this decision is likely to have a very limited impact on political adds. Let's pretend it doesn't. Let's pretend American companies and unions suddenly throw lots of money into political adds in the next campaign. I say, "So what? " Anything that increases our political discourse should be a good thing. And protecting the Bill of Rights should be supported by all of us.


Anonymous said...

So two usually opposing groups agreed on something. This is not something that has happened in a while. Something our president has "pushed" for, yet condemns when it actually happens. Which by the way was a huge act that undermined our government. His job of checks and balances ends at his appointment of the justices, not his opinion on their decisions during one of his required duties. Joe Wilson was wrong, so was the president.

pack04 said...

In doing a little research on this post I found some interesting quotes from Justice Scalia. So I went to the primary source for it, the Supreme Court Website and look at page 79 for his special comments. He brings up an interesting point. "It [the dissent] never shows why "the freedom of speech" that was the right of Englishmen did not include the freedom to speak in association with other individuals." He goes on on page 80 to say "Though faced with a constitutional text that makes no distinction between types of speakers, the dissent feels no necessity to provide even an isolated statement from the founding era to the effect that corporations are not covered, but places the burden on petitioners to bring forward statements showing that they are.

Now I have not had the time to read the entire opinion of all Justices because it is 183 pages long but from the statements of Justice Scalia, I have a feeling the dissent is based on their opinion that corporations are evil. I think their opinion is shared by our president as well. I think that is sad because the corporations are part of America as well. To be fair I also think that there are a fair amount of consertatives that think unions are the root of all evil in this country. I also disagree with that because they too are a group of American people. No I am not saying all corporations perfect nor are unions but they have a voice that should be heard. If you really think about it and break it down to the simplest forms and apply it to this situation the Republican/Democratic parties are not that different from unions or corporations. They are a group of people that get together to speak in association with other individuals. Is that not what a PAC is? Should a community organizer not want a group of people to be heard as one?

Andy D said...

Anonymous, I hadn't thought about that context. The President claims to want bipartisanship, but only on issues he supports.

I think Unions have outlived their usefulness. They no longer fight simply for better working conditions, but actively fight against companies, sometimes in ways that hurt the employees they represent. Having said that, I don't think the First Amendment should apply to them too. If they want to run campaign ads, that's between them and their members.

SpokaSeattle Dave said...

A corporation is NOT a group of citizens united in political belief or worldview. It IS a legal entity that hires citizens to work for it.

You can poll any corporation in existence and find that there are NONE where every single employee agrees on political matters.

Further, corporations have groups of investors from other countries who have now been given a voice in our political machination, in some way, shape or form.

This was a horrible decision.

Politics has no place in the work place. And this decision reeks of politics.

pack04 said...

"You can poll any corporation in existence and find that there are NONE where every single employee agrees on political matters."

You can say the same about every single union, PAC or community organization. Why the hate on just a corporation?

If it is awful for groups of investors from other countries to have a say in our political machination then why did Mr. Obama campaign in Germany? Would you allow a German citizen to contribute money to a politician like an American does? Also, if it is such a horrible decision why during his campaign did Mr. Obama say elect me so that the world will like us better? So we can't have their money but we are too make our decisions based on foreign opinion.

Every decision by the supreme court is full of politics.

How do you feel about the president undermining, placing himself above, an equal part of the government in front of a national/global audience?

Again I ask, as much as you might dislike the consequences of it, what part of this: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;" says that it is exclusively for individuals.

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