CITIZENS UNITED DECISION – In defense of – 7/20/16

This question has come up at two Candidate forums and at least one of Cathy’s town halls I attended.  I specifically remember the question at Cathy’s Cheney Town Hall meeting in March? of this year.  It was asked by a local activist, Stacy Cossey.  Cathy’s response was deer in the headlights.  She slipped the question.  I knew the answer but did not think it appropriate to answer the question directed at Cathy.

Obama chastised the Supreme court about this decision at a State of the Union address.  Dave Wilson and Joe Pakootas generally favor repeal of the Citizens United decision on campaign spending.  I don’t know Krystol McGee’s position.  I think the case was properly decided and this is the argument I make in favor of Citizens United.

Setup for the question at the Quaker Candidate Forum: ( the Quakers gave us a list of questions before hand ) Congressional efforts to regulate campaign spending were struck down in recent court rulings. The U.S. campaign finance system now allows corporations and wealthy individuals to have undue influence on decisions that should be decided democratically. This has detrimental effects on ordinary citizens’ faith in our democratic system.

Question: If elected will you work to preserve the critical democratic value of equal participation in elections?

My answer:

This question is prompted by the 2010 Supreme Court Case called Citizens United. In the case, in 2008 a conservative non-profit organization called Citizens United wanted to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts within 30 days of a primary election.  A lower court held that this violated the McCain – Feingold Campaign reform act.  On appeal the Supreme Court found for Citizens United and said they should have been able to buy the airtime to advertise the film on the basis that McCain Feingold restricted free speech.  The Supreme Court struck down all provisions of McCain Feingold that prohibited corporations (including nonprofit corporations) and unions from making independent expenditures and “electioneering communications”.

Prohibiting corporations from spending money on elections, essentially to buy time and space in media to make their argument, sounds good at first glance.  A closer look reveals that some corporations would be exempt.  How are you going to prevent media corporations, FOX News, or MSNBC from broadcasting their views?  We have freedom of the press.   Who is going to decide what the news media can say? 

An example would be, under McCain Feingold, if the evil Koch brothers wanted to buy space in the NY Times to say something nasty about Hilary Clinton within 30 days of an election they could not.  On the other hand, if that Knight in Shining Armor, Pinch Sulzburger wanted to order his editorial board of the NY Times to write a favorable editorial on Hilary every day, up to and including election day, that is permissible.

This is clearly unequal treatment.  The Citizens United Decision fixed this unfair situation.

Clearly we have too much money in politics.  Money buys name recognition and attention.  Treating media corporations different than other corporations is not part of the solution. 

An improvement to the situation would be detailed disclosure of who is funding any and all campaign activity.

 It looks to me like actually taking the money out of politics would require telling media corporations what they could print, which is unacceptable