Nonprofit Newswire | In Defense of Citizens United

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January 27, 2010; Atlanta Journal Constitution | It’s more than a little disconcerting to see an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution defending the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in the Citizens United case co-authored by Republican senator Mitch McConnell and iconic First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams.

In the wake of President Obama’s State of the Union address attack on the Citizens United case and Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito’s head-shaking and mouthed “that’s not true” response to the President (over, apparently, whether foreign-owned corporations would be enabled to directly affect U.S. elections by virtue of the decision), the fact that Abrams is defending the decision in several venues, including a lengthy interview in the Wall Street Journal, is important to note—even though we here at NPQ still disagree with the decision and, consequently, Abrams too.

The Abrams argument is that the Citizens film about Hillary Clinton, made available through on-demand cable before the last election, was simply one form of speech, and therefore protected by the First Amendment. The fact that the decision unleashes potentially untold amounts of corporate money to purchase “speech” in support or opposition to candidates for federal office doesn’t phase Abrams and doesn’t concern his free market-minded amicus filer, Senator McConnell.

It’s not clear to us how unfettered corporate money for campaign-related issue ads won’t end up as corrupting, whether on the narrow basis of quid pro quos or more broadly. Abrams thinks the Court has reached a balance between free speech and anti-corruption. We tend to agree with Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 that it’s hard to see how this decision won’t end up with corporate campaign moneys buying influence with to-be-elected and elected federal officials.—Rick Cohen