January 20, 2012 by Mike Landry
The 2012 presidential election will be the first since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, allowing large organizations such as unions and corporations to contribute an unlimited amount of funds to promote candidates and issues. How do you think this will affect the outcome of the race?
It’s possible the Citizens United decision will bring some advertising dollars to the table, but results are hard to predict.
The free political speech absolutes of the First Amendment were the primary focus of the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when it said the First Amendment applied to organizations voicing political opinions.
Such organizations had been hampered by the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act’s as- sault on the First Amendment, assaults through regulation that the Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Citizens United, called “censorship.”
Trying to decide who may be unworthy of political speech because they are an or- ganization or are too rich, is blatantly un- constitutional, the Court said. Opponents of the Citizens United decision like to say that it benefits “corporations,” raising the image of powerful oil and pharmaceutical companies using their mega-dollars to subvert the democratic process. But the Citizens United decision is aimed at all organizations, and preserves First Amendment rights of not only for-profit companies, but also those of unions and non-profit organizations like the Sierra Club or a conservative educational group like Citizens United itself.
Following the Citizens United decision, for-profit corporations could use their restored First Amendment rights to criticize the actions of Barack Obama, the most anti-business President since Franklin Roosevelt. But that’s unlikely, given the risk of alienating a high percentage of their customers who either support the president or who resent any incursion of politics into their lives.
Trade associations, on the other hand,
would allow corporations to push back against the crushing policies of the Obama administration while preserving some degree of anonymity.
Also, Citizens United will probably bring high amounts of union dollars into campaign advertising this year as unions attempt to morph the word “union” into “middle class.” Of course, these are not for the most part the old private- sector unions like the United Autowork- ers, Teamsters Union, Pipefitters Union, etc., who are dying with their industries in the Rust Belt. Rather, union growth is occurring among those representing government employees. As a result, calls for preserving the middle class are often calls for preserving government pay scales and benefits which are evaporating from the private sector.
President Obama, of course, is op- posed to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, publicly insulting the justices for it during a State of the Union address. This despite Justice Kennedy’s clear argument that the unfettered free speech is a basic part of free elections (in a separate opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said disclosure of donors for or- ganizational political speech is chilling to the free election process). Of course, the president’s disregard for the Constitution is nothing new — what’s scary is that four justices had so little regard for free political speech that they dissented from the Citizens United ruling.
But speech restrictions have been rolled back at least for this year’s elec- tion. So opine away, Exxon-Mobil, PETA, ACLU, Tea Party, and everyone else with something to say about candidates and issues.
It’s once again seen as your right. For now …
Click here to read Richard Drake’s response to the question