Profile: Citizens United
Citizens United was a participant or observer in the following events:
David Bossie. [Source: C-SPAN]David Bossie, an investigator for Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), is fired from his position. Bossie recently leaked transcripts of prison conversations featuring former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell, who will be convicted of defrauding clients and sentenced to prison in 2004. Bossie fraudulently edited the transcripts to have Hubbell imply that First Lady Hillary Clinton broke the law while the two worked together in an Arkansas law firm. Bossie cut out portions of Hubbell’s conversations exonerating her from any wrongdoing, and sometimes rewrote Hubbell’s words entirely. In response to the controversy, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says of Burton and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee.” (In late April, Burton had called President Clinton a “scumbag,” further embarrassing Gingrich and the Republican leadership.) Bossie came to Burton’s staff from Citizens United (CU), which he joined in 1994 and soon rose to become director of government relations and communications. In 1988, as a member of Floyd Brown’s Presidential Victory Committee (PVC), Bossie helped produce the infamous Willie Horton ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 1992, as executive director of the PVC, Bossie oversaw the release of a fundraising letter accusing then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton of having an affair with an Arkansas woman, for use in an ad that falsely suggested it was the product of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Then-President Bush accused the PVC of engaging in “filthy campaign tactics,” and his son and campaign aide George W. Bush sent a letter asking donors not to give to the organization. Bossie has encouraged Burton to open an investigation into the suicide of Clinton administration aide Vince Foster (alleging that Foster was murdered as part of some unspecified White House plot, or perhaps an Israeli intelligence “black op”). While an aide to Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Bossie was found to have tried to intimidate a federal judge during a Whitewater-related investigation. Bossie has earned a reputation as a “Whitewater stalker,” combing Arkansas for “evidence” of crimes by the Clintons, and repeatedly making false and lurid allegations against the president and/or his wife. For a year, Bossie has promised that Burton’s committee would soon produce evidence of Chinese espionage and White House collusion, but any evidence of such a scandal has never been produced. A former lawyer for the Oversight Committee, John Rowley, has called Bossie’s actions “unrelenting self-promoti[on]” and challenged Bossie’s competence. Bossie says his transcripts were accurate (though the tapes of Hubbell’s conversations prove he is wrong), and blames committee Democrats for the controversy. [WorldNetDaily, 5/7/1998; Salon, 5/7/1998; Media Matters, 5/11/2004] WorldNetDaily reporter David Bresnahan writes that according to his sources, Bossie “was either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage” Burton’s investigations into the Clinton administration. Bresnahan also says that Burton allowed Bossie to resign instead of firing him, as other media sources report. [WorldNetDaily, 5/7/1998]
Entity Tags: Floyd Brown, David Bresnahan, Dan Burton, Clinton administration, Citizens United, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Webster Hubbell, Presidential Victory Committee, David Bossie, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, John Rowley, Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Vince Foster
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) runs a television advertisement featuring the father of a firefighter killed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The father, Jimmy Boyle, says in the ad: “On September 11, terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, including 346 firefighters, one of which was my son, Michael. I lost my son. I spoke to him that day. He went to work that morning, and he had died for a reason: because somebody hates America. And that day, George Bush became a leader, a war president.” CU is spending $100,000 to run the ad for a week in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, DC. CU is led by Republican political operative David Bossie (see May 1998). [Washington Post, 5/11/2004; Media Matters, 5/11/2004]
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) attempts to rebut a 60 Minutes appearance by former President Bill Clinton by buying television time to accuse Clinton of leaving the US unprepared for the 9/11 attacks. Clinton appears on the CBS newsmagazine to discuss his upcoming autobiography, My Life. In the book, Clinton says that CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) helped to create the Whitewater scandal that plagued his second presidential term and led to his impeachment by the Republican-led House of Representatives. Bossie has published a book, Intelligence Failure, blaming the Clinton administration for leaving the country vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. Bossie recently told an interviewer that he has been working on “uncovering the truth” about the Clinton administration for a decade. “I am going to make sure people remember the facts, not just what he wants people to remember,” he said. Bossie’s organization runs a commercial in several markets listing a number of terrorist attacks during Clinton’s two terms, and accusing Clinton of leaving the nation unprepared for the 9/11 assault. The CU refutation is just one of a number of conservative attacks on Clinton over his book, possibly because Clinton shows signs of being willing to join Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on the campaign trail. A number of conservatives are advising the Kerry campaign to keep its distance from Clinton. [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster.
[Source: Lions Gate Films]Fahrenheit 9/11, a film by well-known documentarian and author Michael Moore, is released in the US. Amongst other things, this film reveals connections between the Bush family and prominent Saudis including the bin Laden family. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004] It reviews evidence the White House helped members of Osama bin Laden’s family and other Saudis fly out of the US in the days soon after 9/11. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] It introduces to the mainstream damning footage of President Bush continuing with a photo-op for seven minutes (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) after being told of the second plane hitting the WTC on 9/11. [New York Times, 6/18/2004; Washington Post, 6/19/2004; Newsweek, 6/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Disney refused to let its Miramax division distribute the movie in the United States, supposedly because the film was thought too partisan. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Guardian, 6/2/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/11/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] The film won the top award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival—the first documentary to do so in nearly 50 years. [BBC, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 5/24/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] It is generally very well received, with most US newspapers rating it favorably. [Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004; Editor & Publisher, 6/27/2004] The film is an instant hit and is seen by tens of millions. [Associated Press, 6/27/2004; BBC, 6/28/2004; Associated Press, 6/28/2004; CBS News, 6/28/2004] There are some criticisms that it distorts certain facts, such as exaggerating the possible significance of Bush and bin Laden family connections, and gripes about a $1.4 billion number representing the money flowing from Saudi companies to the Bush family. However, the New York Times claims that the public record corroborates the film’s main assertions. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] Shortly before the film’s release, the conservative organization Citizens United tried to block the film’s distribution (see June 27, 2004). The effort failed (see August 6, 2004).
David Bossie (see May 1998), the head of the conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU), accuses liberal filmmaker Michael Moore of improper involvement in the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Moore and the production company Lions Gate have released a new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, that is highly critical of the Bush administration (see June 25, 2004). Bossie says the film’s commercials, airing on network and cable television, are little more than campaign commercials devised to attack President Bush and assist Kerry. One commercial shows Bush on the golf course, talking about terrorism. In the clip, Bush tells a group of reporters, “We must stop these terrorist killers,” then turns his back, hefts his golf club, and says, “Now watch this drive.” The New York Times writes that “[t]he scene is one of many featured in the film that paint the president as cavalier, cynical, and insincere in the war against terrorism.” Republicans have for the most part ignored the film until recently, when ads for the film began drawing what they consider unwarranted attention. Bossie says: “There’s only a very small percentage of Americans that are going to go and see this movie. A much larger number are going to be bombarded by these political ads run by Michael Moore, potentially all the way through the election.” CU has run ads supportive of Bush (see (May 11, 2004)). Bossie has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that agency to classify the film’s ads as political, and restrict their broadcast according to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003). The law says that if found to be political, the ads must not be aired within 30 days of the start of the Republican National Convention on August 30. Legal experts say the FEC is unlikely to rule on the complaint for months, and even if the agency finds the ads to be political, the film could qualify for an exemption from the restrictions for news and commentary. Tom Ortenberg of Lions Gate says, “If we are still running television ads [by July 30], we will make certain that they are in full compliance with any and all regulations.” If they must remove Bush from the ads to remain in compliance, Ortenberg says “we can market this film without him.” Ortenberg denies that the ads have any political agenda. [New York Times, 6/27/2004] After Lions Gate agrees not to show ads for the film after July 30, the FEC will dismiss the complaint (see August 6, 2004).
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses the complaint “Citizens United v. Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11.” The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see (May 11, 2004)) had complained to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that liberal documentarian Michael Moore released a movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), that was so critical of the Bush administration that it should be considered political advertising. If the movie is indeed political advertising, under federal law it cannot be shown within 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election. The FEC dismisses the complaint, finding no evidence that the movie’s advertisements had broken the law. The movie’s distributors, Lions Gate, assure the FEC that they do not intend to advertise the movie during the time periods given under the law. [Federal Election Commission, 8/6/2004; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] In the aftermath of the FEC decision, CU leaders Floyd Brown (see September 21 - October 4, 1988) and David Bossie will decide that they can do what Moore did, and decide to make their own “documentaries.” Bossie realized after Fahrenheit 9/11 aired that it, and the television commercials promoting it, served two purposes—attacking President Bush and generating profits. Having already conducted an examination of the career of former First Lady Hillary Clinton (D-NY), now a sitting senator with presidential aspirations, the organization will decide to make its first “feature film” about her (see January 10-16, 2008). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’ [Source: Citizens United]The Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) to advertise on television its upcoming film Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die, a documentary that the group intends as a refutation of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The FEC also refuses to allow CU to pay to run the film on television. The FEC bases its decision on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold—see March 27, 2002), and its restrictions on nonprofit groups such as CU using unregulated contributions to pay for “electioneering communications” to be shown within 60 days of a federal general election. CU would broadcast the film in late September, less than 60 days before the November 2 elections. CU argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a member of the news media and therefore can use a legal exemption provided for news, commentary, and editorial content. In a 4-0 vote, the FEC rejects the argument, saying that CU intends to buy air time instead of being paid to provide content, and that its primary function is as an advocacy group and not a film production organization. FEC vice chair Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the commission’s three Democrats, says: “You don’t want a situation where people are airing campaign commercials and they are exempt from commission rules because they are considered a media event. The danger is that the exemption swallows the rules.” CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he is “clearly disappointed” with the ruling, and adds, “They [the FEC] want to limit free speech, and that’s what this issue is about for us.” The company marketing Fahrenheit 9/11 was not allowed to run advertisements promoting the film within 60 days of the elections, and a CU complaint against that film was dismissed after its distributors promised not to air such advertisements (see August 6, 2004). CU has helped fund the publication of a book by Bossie attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), and has released numerous documentaries attacking the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The current film contains some material attacking Kerry, though that material is not the primary focus of the film. Bossie says the group will attempt to show the film in theaters to paying audiences within a few weeks (see September 27-30, 2004). [New York Times, 9/9/2004; New York Times, 9/30/2004]
Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Bush administration (43), Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Clinton administration, John Kerry, Michael Moore, David Bossie, United Nations, Ellen L. Weintraub
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]
Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
Newsweek’s Jonathan Darman reports that Citizens United (CU), a conservative lobbying and advocacy group headed by activist David Bossie, is producing an unflattering documentary on Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. The title of the story highlights Clinton’s “likability gap,” but the story itself focuses on the “grudge” borne by Bossie and CU against Clinton and the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. The documentary is scheduled for release in theaters in the fall of 2007, Darman reports. One of its potential targets is a generation of young voters who know little about the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals that dogged the Clinton administration. Bossie says, “There’s an enormous market for Hillary Clinton information.” R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., the editor of the American Spectator and the author of numerous books purporting to tell the truth behind the Clinton allegations, says there are “active research teams” working to expose Clinton. “They’re out there,” he says. “I get calls all the time.” Clinton’s campaign says the documentary is “old news” and “cash for rehash.” Darman notes: “For all the charges through the years, none has ever stuck. Arguably the most-investigated woman in contemporary American life moved from tabloid target in the White House to winning a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most contentious states. It’s her resilience and capacity to survive and thrive against all comers that partly fuels the haters’ fury.” However, some voters still harbor distrust and resentment towards Clinton, stemming in part from her reputation as “secretive, controlling, and paranoid,” as Darman characterizes her critics’ feelings towards her, as first lady. Her negative perception polling is remarkably high for a potential presidential candidate. Darman writes: “[T]he real problem many Democratic voters have with Clinton is the sneaking suspicion that with so much of the country against her, she can never win a general election. Clinton’s fate may well come down to her ability to deal with a vexing question: what is it about me that so many people don’t like?” Clinton is, Darman writes, “a comic-book villain for her detractors—a man-eating feminist, they claimed, who allegedly threw lamps at her husband, communed psychically with Eleanor Roosevelt, and lit a White House Christmas tree adorned with sex toys. The narrative of depravity—a tissue of inventions by conservatives—was often hard to follow. Was she, as they imagined her, a secret lesbian who fostered a West Wing culture of rampant homosexuality? Or was she the duplicitous adulteress who slept with former law partner Vincent Foster, ordered his death, and then made it look like a suicide? Disjointed as they may have been, Hillary horror tales soon became big business on talk radio.” But the attacks have not weakened her appreciably, and may have strengthened her as a candidate. [Newsweek, 6/17/2007] The liberal watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Darman fails to alert his readers to what it calls Bossie’s past “slimy tactics” (see May 1998). [Media Matters, 6/11/2007] The documentary will not be released until the summer of 2008 (see January 10-16, 2008), and will become the focus of a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance (see January 21, 2010).
A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Republican political strategist Dick Morris falsely claims that “Clinton appointees” on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are preventing the advocacy group Citizens United (CU) from airing its new documentary, Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). However, the head of CU, David Bossie (see May 1998), says that the organization can indeed show the documentary. Morris, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, tells co-host Alan Colmes that the FEC “won’t let us run” the film “in movie theaters.” He explains, “The Clinton appointees [on the FEC] are blocking it.” However, Bossie tells a Washington Times reporter, “I can put it in theaters, I just can’t let anybody know it’s there.” The FEC requires CU to comply with disclosure requirements under campaign finance law if it wishes to advertise the movie, a requirement the organization is unwilling to meet. (The day after Morris’s appearance, a court rules that CU must disclose its donors in order to advertise the film—see January 15, 2008.) Morris was originally a producer of the film before stepping away from the project, but has said that he appears in the film as a commentator. [Media Matters, 1/16/2008] CU will release the film in theaters the next day (see January 10-16, 2008).
A three-judge panel rules that the conservative advocacy group Citizens United (CU) must agree to reveal the identities of the donors that made its documentary on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton possible, if it intends to advertise the film. The film, entitled Hillary: The Movie, is considered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to be “electioneering,” or the communication of partisan political views, as opposed to a more objective documentary as CU claims. CU challenged the FEC in court in a December 2007 filing, claiming that “issue-oriented television ads are protected by the First Amendment and should not be subject to disclosure requirements under McCain-Feingold campaign finance law,” referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Under the BCRA, partisan political communications such as the CU film are subject to blackout periods in a specific period before elections. The Supreme Court ruled that so-called “issue ads” can be run by partisan political groups such as CU (see Mid-2004 and After), but the FEC has ruled that such “issue ads” must include disclaimers, and the producers of the ads must file reports that name the ads’ contributors. CU is challenging such disclosure requirements, saying that advertisements for the Clinton film are commercial in nature and not political, and therefore protected under the First Amendment from being forced to disclose donor information. The court rules otherwise. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008 ; Washington Times, 1/16/2008; Media Matters, 1/16/2008]
The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/24/2008] The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).
Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD. [Source: Amazon (.com)]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” [New York Times, 7/22/2008; Associated Press, 10/28/2008; Media Matters, 10/29/2008]
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/31/2008]
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). [Media Matters, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Citizens United, PolitiFact (.org ), Palm Beach Post, Charles Gerardi, MoveOn (.org), Mike Huckabee, Politico, Rick Santorum, Cincinnati Enquirer, Trinity United Church of Christ, Armstrong Williams, Associated Press, Barack Obama, Washington Post, Tucker Carlson, Media Matters, Louis Farrakhan, Robert Novak, John McCain, David Bossie, Las Vegas Review-Journal, David Freddoso, Columbus Dispatch, Clinton administration, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Columbia Journalism Review, David Petraeus, New York Times, Hillary Clinton, Isaac Baker, J. Kenneth Blackwell, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Dick Morris, Jill Stanek, Jerome Corsi, Illinois Department of Public Health
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Scott Nelson, US Supreme Court, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Barbara Olson, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Kennedy, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Gregg P. Leslie, Nick Nyhart, Edwin Kneedler, David Souter, Federal Election Commission, James Bopp, Jr, John Paul Stevens, David Bossie, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Malcolm Stewart
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The New York Times, in an unsigned editorial, warns of the possible ramifications of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was argued on March 15, eight days before the Web publication date of the editorial (see March 15, 2009) and nine days before the editorial is published in print; it is unclear in retrospect why the editorial is written as if the arguments have not yet taken place, or whether the dates of the published version are accurate. The Times sums up the case—a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United (CU), planned to air a 90-minute film that was highly critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the days before 2008 presidential primary elections, in violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or “McCain-Feingold”—see March 27, 2002) that bans “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election. CU was aware of the law, and filed a suit claiming that the law unconstitutionally violated its First Amendment rights. “The Supreme Court should affirm that ruling,” the Times states. The CU briefs “mak[e] a wide array of claims,” the “most dangerous” of which is a request to overturn the 1990 Austin Court decision (see March 27, 1990) that banned corporations from using monies from their general treasuries. The Times states: “If Citizens United prevails, it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 3/23/2009]
The US Supreme Court says it will schedule a hearing on the controversial “Citizens United” case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (see March 15, 2009), for September 2009, in an unusual second presentation before the Court (see September 9, 2009). According to the justices, the lawyers for both Citizens United (CU) and the federal government should argue whether previous Court rulings upholding federal election law should be overturned based on First Amendment grounds. Both sides are asked to argue whether the Court should overrule the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), which upheld restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns, and/or the 2003 McConnell decision (see December 10, 2003), which upheld the bulk of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Law professor Nathaniel Persily says of the directive: “The Court is poised to reverse longstanding precedents concerning the rights of corporations to participate in politics. The only reason to ask for reargument on this is if they’re going to overturn Austin and McConnell.” The New York Times observes, “The Roberts court [referring to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts] has struck down every campaign finance regulation to reach it, and it seems to have a majority prepared to do more.” Previous lower court rulings have found that CU’s attempt to air a film attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was an attempt to engage in “electioneering,” and thus came under the restrictions of the McCain-Feingold campaign law (see March 27, 2002). The film was financed in part by donations from corporations and individuals whom CU has refused to identify. [United Press International, 6/29/2009; New York Times, 6/29/2009] CU previously attempted to have its case heard by the Court, but the Court sent the case back to a federal appeals court, which ruled in favor of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and against CU (see March 24, 2008). Law professor Richard Hasen agrees with Persily and the Times that the decision to reargue the case a second time indicates that the Court’s conservative majority is prepared to overturn both Austin and McConnell, and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Hasen writes that if the Court does indeed rule in favor of unlimited corporate spending, it will be in response to the fundraising advantage currently enjoyed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) over his Republican counterpart, John McCain (R-AZ). [Slate, 6/29/2009] The decision will indeed overturn both Austin and McConnell, and gut most of the BCRA (see January 21, 2010).
Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Federal Election Commission, US Supreme Court, New York Times, John G. Roberts, Jr, Richard L. Hasen, Nathaniel Persily, John McCain, Citizens United
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The second round of arguments in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, and June 29, 2009) is heard by the US Supreme Court. The first round of arguments, which unexpectedly focused on an unplanned examination of government censorship, ended in a 5-4 split, with the majority of conservative justices readying a decision to essentially gut the entire body of federal campaign finance law in the name of the First Amendment (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), but an angry dissent by Justice David Souter that accused Chief Justice John Roberts of failing to follow the procedures of the Court in rendering the opinion prompted Roberts to temporarily withdraw the opinion and offer a rare second argument (see May 14, 2012). Newly appointed Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues her first case before the Court. Citizens United, the plaintiff, is represented by former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, a veteran of Court arguments, quickly discerns from the new round of “Questions Presented” that the Court is prepared to not only find in the plaintiff’s favor, but to use the case to render a broad verdict against campaign finance law as a whole. Olson argues cautiously, not wanting to extend the case farther than the Court may desire. The four minority liberal justices, knowing the case is lost, try their best in their questioning to raise awareness in the public once news reports of the arguments are made public. One of those justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asks: “Mr. Olson, are you taking the position that there is no difference” between the First Amendment rights of a corporation and those of an individual? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights. So is there any distinction that Congress could draw between corporations and natural human beings for purposes of campaign finance?” Olson replies, “What the Court has said in the First Amendment context… over and over again is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment” (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). Ginsburg follows up by asking, “Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?” Olson replies, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.” Kagan then takes her turn, and begins: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over a hundred years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this Court has never questioned that judgment.” She begins to make her second point before Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the conservative majority, interrupts her. In 2012, author and reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write that Kagan almost certainly knows hers is a legal “suicide mission,” and can only hope that her arguments may sway the Court to narrow its decision and leave some of the existing body of campaign finance law intact. She tells Roberts later in the questioning period, “Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Justice John Paul Stevens, the most senior of the liberal minority, attempts to assist Kagan in making her argument, suggesting that the Court should content itself with a narrow ruling, perhaps creating an exception in the McCain-Feingold law (see March 27, 2002) for the plaintiff’s documentary (see January 10-16, 2008) or for “ads that are financed exclusively by individuals even though they are sponsored by a corporation.” Kagan agrees with Stevens’s proposal. Stevens then says: “Nobody has explained why that wouldn’t be a proper solution, not nearly as drastic. Why is that not the wisest narrow solution of the problem before us?” Kagan, with help from Ginsburg, undoes some of the damage done by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart during the first argument, where he inadvertently gave the conservative justices the “censorship” argument by which they could justify a broader verdict. Ginsburg asks: “May I ask you one question that was highlighted in the prior argument, and that was if Congress could say no TV and radio ads, could it also say no newspaper ads, no campaign biographies? Last time, the answer was yes, Congress could, but it didn’t. Is that still the government’s answer?” Kagan replies: “The government’s answer has changed, Justice Ginsburg. We took the Court’s own reaction to some of those other hypotheticals very seriously. We went back, we considered the matter carefully.” Unlike Stewart, Kagan specifically says that the government cannot ban books. But the censorship argument remains. After the arguments, the justices render the same verdict: a 5-4 split favoring Citizens United. Roberts, Scalia, and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas vote in the majority, while Ginsburg, Stevens, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor vote in the minority. The second round of questioning, with its much broader scope, gives Roberts and his conservative colleagues the justification they need to render a broad verdict that would gut existing campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malcolm Stewart, Clarence Thomas
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that corporate spending in political elections may not be banned by the federal government. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205. The Court is divided among ideological lines, with the five conservatives voting against the four moderates and liberals on the bench. The decision overrules two precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, and rules that corporate financial support for a party or candidate qualifies as “freedom of speech” (see March 11, 1957, January 30, 1976, May 11, 1976, April 26, 1978, January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, June 26, 1996, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). The majority rules that the government may not regulate “political speech,” while the dissenters hold that allowing corporate money to, in the New York Times’s words, “flood the political marketplace,” would corrupt the democratic process. The ramifications of the decision will be vast, say election specialists. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 ; New York Times, 1/21/2010] In essence, the ruling overturns much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). The ruling leaves the 1907 ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees intact (see 1907). The ban on corporate and union donors coordinating their efforts directly with political parties or candidates’ campaigns remains in place; they must maintain “independence.” Any corporation spending more than $10,000 a year on electioneering efforts must publicly disclose the names of individual contributors. And the ruling retains some disclosure and disclaimer requirements, particularly for ads airing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Los Angeles Times writes: “The decision is probably the most sweeping and consequential handed down under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And the outcome may well have an immediate impact on this year’s mid-term elections to Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; OMB Watch, 1/27/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010; National Public Radio, 2012]
Unregulated Money Impacts Midterm Elections - The decision’s effects will be felt first on a national level in the 2010 midterm elections, when unregulated corporate spending will funnel millions of dollars from corporate donors into Congressional and other races. President Obama calls the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, says the Court “took what had been a revolving door and took the door away altogether. There was something there that slowed the money down. Now it’s gone.” [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 ; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010]
Broadening in Scope - According to reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin, CU lawyer Theodore Olson had originally wanted to present the case as narrowly as possible, to ensure a relatively painless victory that would not ask the Court to drastically revise campaign finance law. But according to Toobin, the conservative justices, and particularly Chief Justice Roberts, want to use the case as a means of overturning much if not all of McCain-Feingold (see May 14, 2012). In the original argument of the case in March 2009 (see March 15, 2009), Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart unwittingly changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation, and gave Roberts and the other conservative justices the opportunity they may have been seeking. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Majority Opinion Grants Corporations Rights of Citizens - The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reads in part: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.… The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” In essence, Kennedy’s ruling finds, corporations are citizens. The ruling overturns two precedents: 1990’s Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates (see March 27, 1990) in its entirety, and large portions of 2003’s McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (see December 10, 2003), which upheld a portion of the BCRA that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Before today’s ruling, the BCRA banned the broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law was restricted in 2007 by a Court decision to apply only to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” (see June 25, 2007).
Encroachment on Protected Free Speech - Eight of the nine justices agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements; Justice Clarence Thomas is the only dissenter on this point. Kennedy writes, “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” Kennedy’s opinion states that if the restrictions remain in place, Congress could construe them to suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books, and on the Internet. Kennedy writes: “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Fiery Dissent - Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court, submits a fiery 90-page dissent that is joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy is joined by Roberts and fellow Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas, though Roberts and Alito submit a concurring opinion instead of signing on with Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. “The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind,” Stevens writes in his dissent. “And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.” Stevens writes that the Court has long recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, but the restrictions struck down by the decision are moderate and fair. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Speaking from the bench, Stevens calls the ruling “a radical change in the law… that dramatically enhances the role of corporations and unions—and the narrow interests they represent—in determining who will hold public office.… Corporations are not human beings. They can’t vote and can’t run for office,” and should be restricted under election law. “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
Case Originated with 2008 Political Documentary - The case originated in a 2008 documentary by the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United (CU), called Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). The film, a caustic attack on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Democrats in general, was released for public viewing during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) won a lawsuit against CU, based on the FEC’s contention that broadcasting the film violated McCain-Feingold, the group abandoned plans to release the film on a cable video-on-demand service and to broadcast television advertisements for it. CU appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and most observers believed the Court would decide the case on narrow grounds, not use the case to rewrite election law and First Amendment coverage. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 ; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010; Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010]
Case Brought in Order to Attack Campaign Finance Law - Critics have said that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an opponent of the decision, says: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” CU head David Bossie confirms this contention, saying after the decision: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, New York Times, Nick Nyhart, Evan Tracey, David Bossie, Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, John Paul Stevens, Malcolm Stewart, John G. Roberts, Jr, Los Angeles Times
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/22/2010]
James Bopp Jr. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]A former lawyer for Citizens United (CU), James Bopp Jr., confirms that the organization had a “10-year plan” that culminated in the recent Citizens United ruling that overturned most of US campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). Bopp has been battling government restrictions on abortion (see November 1980 and After) and campaign finance (see Mid-2004 and After, January 10-16, 2008, and March 24, 2008) for much of his 35-year career. He calls his opponents, including President Obama, “socialists,” and justifies his views by citing the First Amendment. Bopp did not argue the case before the Supreme Court; Citizens United replaced him with what the New York Times calls “a less ideological and more experienced Washington lawyer” (see March 15, 2009). But Bopp is the lawyer who advised CU to use its documentary about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY—see January 10-16, 2008) as a test case to push the limits of corporate spending. He says his strategy continues, with the ultimate goal of deregulating campaign finance completely. “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” Bopp says. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.… We have been awfully successful, and we are not done yet.” Law professor and campaign finance law expert Richard Hasen says the CU case “was really Jim’s brainchild.” Hasen explains: “He has manufactured these cases to present certain questions to the Supreme Court in a certain order and achieve a certain result. He is a litigation machine.” Bopp has other cases on appeal with various courts, all designed to do what the Times says “chip away at some of the disclosure laws left intact by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.” One of Bopp’s main goals is to end the ban on direct donations by corporations to candidates, a goal law professor Nathaniel Persily says is logical in light of Bopp’s earlier efforts: “If you cannot ban corporate spending on ads, how is it that you are allowed to ban corporate contributions to candidates? That is the next shoe to drop.” He also wants to end all disclosure requirements, explaining, “Groups have to be relieved of reporting their donors if lifting the prohibition on their political speech is going to have any meaning.” Forcing groups who buy political commercials to disclose their donors is nearly as punitive, he says, “as an outright criminal go-to-jail-time prohibition.” Bopp says he harbors no ill will towards CU from replacing him with another lawyer to argue the case before the Court. “I understand that law is art,” he says. “Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo—they are all very different, but all create masterpieces.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010]
The retired director of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, writes a detailed editorial in support of the recent Citizens United ruling that opened the way for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited money in campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). The ACLU supported the case throughout its progression (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009), and filed briefs in support of the plaintiff, the conservative advocacy group Citizens United. Glasser says that the “screaming dismay” that “most liberals” evinced on hearing of the decision was unwarranted. Corporations are still banned from directly contributing to political campaigns, and President Obama’s assertion that the decision “reversed a century of law” is incorrect; the 1907 Tillman Act that banned corporations from contributing to campaigns or candidates is still in effect (see 1907). Instead, Glasser writes, the decision is “a huge victory… for freedom of speech and against government censorship” (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010). Corporations, he writes, have the same right to speech as individuals, and they exercise that speech by spending money promoting issues and candidates, or criticizing those issues and candidates. He cites two instances in which the ACLU was stopped by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) from engaging in “political free speech,” one in 1972 when the FEC stopped the ACLU from taking out an ad in the New York Times criticizing President Nixon’s opposition to school busing to implement integration, and in 1984, when the FEC barred the ACLU from making public statements critical of President Reagan. Both instances took place inside the “window” of time before an election (30 days before a primary, 60 days before a general election) in which such utterances were considered supporting a candidate. Nonprofit groups such as Citizens United have been victimized for decades by campaign finance restrictions, Glasser writes. Later in the article, he derides the idea that restricting or controlling speech creates equality between rich and poor in elections, curbing the propensity for the rich to wield more influence and be heard more broadly than less wealthy citizens or organizations. “Money isn’t speech, but how much money one has always determines how much speech one has,” Glasser writes. “Most if not all of you reading this have never had as much speech as, say, the New York Times or George Soros or Nelson Rockefeller or George Bush or, as we recently discovered in my city, Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg. The inequities of speech that flow from the inequities of wealth are certainly a big and distorting problem for a democracy, and have always been so, and not just during elections. No one knows how to remedy that, short of fundamental re-distributions of wealth. But I’ll tell you what isn’t a remedy: granting the government the power to decide who should speak, and how much speech is enough. Nothing but disaster flows from that approach, and that was what was at stake in this case.” He concludes by advocating public financing of elections entirely, writing: “Liberals and Democrats have been the chief offenders… favoring equity in the abstract but never seeing how the particular reforms they advocated made the problems they wished to remedy worse, and never seeing that giving the government the authority to regulate speech was not a good thing. Maybe now this result, which has steamed up liberals and Democrats, may at last shift their attention to the kind of public financing that equitably provides money for more speech instead of pretending to create equity by granting the government the authority to restrict speech. We shall see.” [Huffington Post, 2/3/2010]
Excerpt from the opening credits of ‘Fire from the Heartland.’ [Source: Adrienne Royer]A new political film from conservative activist group Citizens United labels President Obama a “gangsta,” and compares him to a Chicago mobster. The film, titled Fire from the Heartland: the Awakening of the Conservative Woman, is ostensibly a celebration of conservative women, but spends much of its runtime attacking Obama and his administration’s policies. The film is written, directed, and co-produced by Stephen Bannon, who co-founded the National Tea Party Federation in April in part to combat charges that tea party organizations promote racism (see June 30, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 11, 2009). The film profiles 15 female conservative politicians, pundits, and tea party activists, including Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, S.E. Cupp, Dana Loesch, Michelle Easton, Sonnie Johnson, Jenny Beth Martin, Michelle Moore, Jamie Radtke, Deneen Borelli, Janine Turner, and House members Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Bannon says that the goal of the film is for moderate and independent women viewers to watch the film and then say, “[T]hese women are not the crazy harridans they are portrayed as on TV.” The film quotes African-American conservative Sonnie Johnson, the president of the black conservative Frederick Douglass Foundation, as saying, “If you come from the street… you know Obama has a lot of gangsta in him.” Johnson, a prominent member of Virginia tea party organizations, is using a slang term for “gangster,” indicating that Obama is similar to African-American street criminals who belong to gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods. Johnson’s characterization is echoed in the film by Bachmann, who says, “This administration has embraced something called gangster government.” Bannon juxtaposes the two women’s comments with black and white footage of African-American gangsters with guns. One segment of the film shows a convenience store clerk being robbed at gunpoint; reporter Garance Franke-Ruta writes that “the narrative makes clear the man with the gun embodies the government.” [Plum Line, 9/24/2010]
Entity Tags: Deneen Borelli, Sonnie Johnson, Stephen Bannon, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Ann Coulter, Dana Loesch, Michelle Moore, S.E. Cupp, Michelle Easton, Janine Turner, Jamie Radtke, Garance Franke-Ruta, Michelle Malkin, Cynthia Lummis, Michele Bachmann, Jean Schmidt, Jenny Beth Martin
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
’We Are Ohio’ logo. [Source: ProgressOhio (.org)]Ohio Senate Bill 5, known as the Ohio Collective Bargaining Limit Repeal, is defeated by a voter referendum. The bill would enable severe limitations on collective bargaining for public employees in the state, and make it difficult for those employees to strike and collectively bargain for wages, health insurance, and pensions, and would have increased employee contributions for pensions and health insurance. The hard-fought campaign pitted Governor John Kasich (R-OH) and Ohio Republicans against the state’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, and unions. The bargaining limit repeal was supported by farmers and a number of independent corporate organizations, including Citizens United, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business; it was opposed by labor unions, Democrats, and some independent organizations, including the bipartisan political action committee We Are Ohio, which helped launch the referendum. Over $50 million was spent on the campaign by outside parties and both political parties. Ohio Democrats and labor leaders call the repeal a win for progressives and worker rights, and the first step in recapturing the state government, which has been dominated by Republicans since the 2010 elections. Doug Stern, a firefighter who joined We Are Ohio, says: “Hey, I’m a Republican, but I’m telling you, Republican firefighters and police officers aren’t going to be voting Republican around here for a while. We’ll see what happens in 2012, but our guys have a long memory. We’re angry and disgusted.” Supporters, relying on large infusions of cash from corporate and other interests, relied largely on media advertising to support the repeal, while opponents staged mass protests and organized grassroots volunteers who they say will continue to work to defeat Republican interests. One $100,000 television ad paid for by Citizens United depicted schoolchildren while a voiceover told viewers that the bill allows schools to “replace” bad teachers, and added, “We parents and educators deserve the right to run our own schools.” Citizens United president David Bossie (see May 1998) told a reporter that his organization “decided to get in and play a role right at the end to educate the voting public and try to persuade them that this is the right way to go.” We Are Ohio called such ads “desperate attempt[s] by another shadowy out-of-state group that refuses to disclose the source of its money” (see January 21, 2010). Kasich repeatedly argued that the harsh measures against public employees and labor unions were necessary to balance the state’s budget. One senior state Republican says that Kasich “snatch[ed] defeat from the jaws of victory” by alienating labor-friendly independents in the state. [Politico, 11/2/2011; Think Progress, 11/3/2011; Politico, 11/8/2011]
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the US Chamber of Commerce file amicus curiae briefs with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s support for Montana’s ban on corporate financing of political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After). The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) has already filed such a brief. Former officials of the ACLU, along with advocacy groups such as Free Speech for People, have filed an amicus brief asking the Court to review the decision. Many observers have predicted the Court will overturn the Montana high court’s ruling (see January 4, 2012) because it seems to conflict with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), but a summary reversal—in essence, a decision without allowing the two sides to present arguments—would be somewhat unusual. Four justices are required to accept the case for review, while five must vote for summary judgment. The Court issued a stay on the Montana court’s decision soon after its issuance (see February 10-17, 2012). The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock. CU lawyers have asked the Court to protect the ruling it issued in the case bearing its name, accusing the Montana court of “constitutional mischief” and advising the Court to “reaffirm its position as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning” by summarily reversing the Montana court’s decision. On the other side, the ACLU officials and other briefs have urged the Court to review its Citizens United decision, saying the ruling is “in serious doubt” because of “massive” spending in the 2012 federal campaigns “by corporations and wealthy elites.” The Free Speech for People brief focuses on the issue of spending by “independent” outside groups and individuals since the Citizens United decision (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, and March 26, 2012), and says the massive spending undercuts the rationale for the decision: “In view of the increasingly dominant role of corporate and private independent expenditures in our electoral politics, this Court should grant certiorari and reexamine whether its long-standing precedent permitting regulations designed to prevent the use of wealth from drowning out other voices provides an additional basis for upholding restrictions on independent expenditures.” The Free Speech for People brief also argues that the Court should use the American Tradition Partnership case to rule that corporations are not entitled to the protections of the First Amendment free speech clause or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. CU lawyers have argued that the Citizens United decision is not the issue, but the Montana high court’s decision to uphold its state ban on unlimited corporate spending because of what the CU brief calls “Montana’s supposedly unique history, geography, politics, and economy.” The CU brief continued, “The Montana Supreme Court’s state-specific analysis makes this case an exceedingly poor vehicle to reexamine the broader constitutional questions settled in Citizens United.” The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should bind Montana as well as the other 49 states, the CU brief argued, saying that “state courts—like federal courts—have an unwavering obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified.… They are not freed from that constitutional obligation where the decision of this Court is controversial or unpopular, where it was rendered by a divided Court, or where state officials disagree with the decisions as a matter of policy.” Instead, the brief claimed, Montana’s high court has promulgated “a transparent attempt to circumvent the application of this Court’s precedent to a state statute that is materially indistinguishable from the federal prohibition on corporate independent expenditures struck down by this Court in Citizens United. Such constitutional mischief should proceed no further.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Senator McConnell, who files a brief urging summary reversal today, has argued against campaign finance reform for a decade, and was one of the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2002 lawsuit attempting to reverse a legislative ban on corporate donations (see December 10, 2003). And, it notes, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest donors in the 2012 elections. [Lyle Denniston, 5/1/2012; Think Progress, 5/2/2012] The Supreme Court will indeed overrule the Montana high court’s decision (see June 25, 2012).
Jeffrey Toobin in 2007. [Source: Wikimedia]Author and political pundit, Jeffrey Toobin, publishes an in-depth article for the New Yorker showing that Chief Justice John Roberts engineered the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), moving it from a case that could well have been considered and decided on a relatively narrow basis to a sweeping decision that reformed the nation’s campaign finance structure. Toobin writes that the underlying issue was quite narrow: the conservative advocacy organization Citizens United (CU) wanted to run a documentary attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) on “video on demand” cable broadcast (see January 10-16, 2008). Under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003), the Federal Election Commission (FEC) disallowed the broadcast because it would come 30 days or less before primary elections. CU challenged the decision in court (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin’s article is an excerpt from his forthcoming book The Oath: The Obama White House vs. The Supreme Court. It is dated May 21, but appears on the New Yorker’s Web site on May 14. [Tom Goldstein, 5/14/2012]
Oral Arguments - During the initial arguments (see March 15, 2009), attorney Theodore Olson, the former solicitor general for the Bush administration, argued a narrow case: that McCain-Feingold’s prohibitions only applied to television commercials, not to full-length documentary films. Olson argued, “This sort of communication was not something that Congress intended to prohibit.” Toobin writes: “Olson’s argument indicated that there was no need for the Court to declare any part of the law unconstitutional, or even to address the First Amendment implications of the case. Olson simply sought a judgment that McCain-Feingold did not apply to documentaries shown through video on demand.… If the justices had resolved the case as Olson had suggested, today Citizens United might well be forgotten—a narrow ruling on a remote aspect of campaign-finance law.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most vocal opponents of campaign finance restrictions on the Court (see September 26, 1986, December 15, 1986, March 27, 1990, June 26, 1996, June 16, 2003, December 10, 2003, and June 25, 2007), seemed disappointed in the limited nature of Olson’s argument, Toobin writes. The oral arguments expand the case far beyond Olson’s initial position. Olson’s initial intention was to narrow the case so that the Court would not have to expand its scope to find in favor of CU.
Change of Scope - Ironically, the government’s lead lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, may well have changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation. Traditionally, lawyers with the solicitor general (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. Toobin writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who had clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. But, Toobin writes, Stewart fell into a trap, prompted by Justice Samuel Alito’s pointed questioning about the government’s ability to ban or censor printed materials—i.e. books—under McCain-Feingold—and follow-up questions by Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, that led him to claim incorrectly that the government could indeed censor books under the law. Stewart’s incorrect assertion gave Roberts and his colleagues the chance to overturn McCain-Feingold on the grounds of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Second Arguments - The second arguments were held on September 9, 2009 (see September 9, 2009). The concept of “money equals speech” goes back at least as far as the 1976 Buckley decision (see January 30, 1976), and the five conservative justices were poised to stretch that definition much farther than has previously been done.
Majority Opinion - Toobin writes that Roberts’s decision was then to decide “how much he wanted to help the Republican Party. Roberts’s choice was: a lot.” Roberts assigned the opinion to Kennedy, the “swing” justice who had already written an expansive opinion gutting almost a century’s worth of campaign finance legislation. Kennedy tends to “swing wildly in one direction or another,” Toobin writes, “an extremist—of varied enthusiasms.” In the area of campaign finance, he has consistently “swung” to the conservative side of the argument. He is, Toobin writes, “extremely receptive to arguments that the government had unduly restricted freedom of speech—especially in the area of campaign finance.” Moreover, Kennedy enjoys writing controversial and “high-profile” opinions. Toobin says that Roberts’s choice of Kennedy to write the opinion was clever: Roberts came onto the Court promising to conduct himself with judicial modesty and a respect for precedent. Kennedy, with his draft opinion at the ready, was a better choice to write an opinion that lacked either modesty or a respect for Court precedence. Roberts, Toobin writes, “obtained a far-reaching result without leaving his own fingerprints.” Kennedy, in an often-eloquent opinion that did not deal with the gritty reality of the Citizens United case, stated that any restraint of money in a campaign risked infringing on free speech. “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.… By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Kennedy also reaffirmed the Court’s perception that corporations deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by individuals. Kennedy’s opinion found, in Toobin’s words, that “[t]he Constitution required that all corporations, for-profit and nonprofit alike, be allowed to spend as much as they wanted, anytime they wanted, in support of the candidates of their choosing.” One of the only provisions remaining in McCain-Feingold after Kennedy’s opinion was the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates.
Fiery Dissent from 'Liberal' Stevens - Toobin reminds readers that the elder statesman of the “liberal” wing of the Court at the time, John Paul Stevens, is a “moderate Midwestern Republican,” one of the last of a “vanishing political tradition.” Though Stevens’s views have migrated left on some issues, such as the death penalty, Toobin writes that the perception of Stevens as a Court liberal is mostly because of the Court’s steady progression to the right. Toobin writes that the 90-year-old Stevens has grown dispirited in recent years, as the conservative wing of the Court, led by Scalia, Alito, and Roberts with Clarence Thomas and often Kennedy in tow, overturned one Court precedent after another. “The course of Citizens United represented everything that offended Stevens most about the Roberts Court,” Toobin writes. Much of Stevens’s objections to the Roberts Court are rooted in procedure; he is deeply troubled by the Citizens United case being transformed by Roberts and his conservative colleagues from a narrowly focused case about a single McCain-Feingold provision to what Toobin calls “an assault on a century of federal laws and precedents. To Stevens, it was the purest kind of judicial activism.” Stevens wrote in his angry dissent, “Five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” A simple change in the McCain-Feingold law to disallow its application to full-length documentaries the CU case was sparked by, or even to nonprofit organizations such as CU, would have been appropriate, Stevens wrote. He penned a 90-page dissent, the longest of his career, blasting almost every aspect of Kennedy’s decision, starting with Kennedy’s ignoring of precedent and continuing with a refutation of Kennedy’s perception of the Constitutional definitions of “censorship” and “free speech.” Stevens was angered by Kennedy’s equivocation of corporations with people. “The Framers thus took it as a given that corporations could be comprehensively regulated in the service of the public welfare,” he wrote. “Unlike our colleagues, they had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Congress has drawn significant distinctions between corporations and people for over a century, he wrote: “at the federal level, the express distinction between corporate and individual political spending on elections stretches back to 1907, when Congress passed the Tillman Act” (see 1907). He even challenged Kennedy’s stated fear that the government might persecute individuals’ speech based on “the speaker’s identity,” sarcastically noting that Kennedy’s opinion “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ [a famed Japanese propagandist] during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.” According to Toobin, Stevens’s law clerks disliked the dated reference, but Stevens, a Navy veteran, insisted on keeping it. Toobin writes that “Stevens’s conclusion was despairing.” Stevens concluded: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Toobin notes that as “impressive” as Stevens’s dissent may have been, it was Kennedy’s opinion that “was reshaping American politics.”
Reaction - In his State of the Union address six days after the verdict, President Obama referenced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s concerns about foreign influence in American politics by saying, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections” (see January 27-29, 2010). Democrats cheered as Obama said, “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities.” Alito’s mouthing of the words “not true” stirred some controversy; Toobin notes that Alito was technically correct, as “Kennedy’s opinion expressly reserved the question of whether the ruling applied to foreign corporations.” However, Toobin notes, “as Olson had argued before the justices, the logic of the Court’s prior decisions suggested that foreign corporations had equal rights to spend in American elections.” With the Citizens United decision and a March 2010 decision that allowed for the formation of “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010), the way was clear for what Toobin calls “presidential campaigns in 2012 that were essentially underwritten by single individuals.” He notes the billionaires that almost single-handedly supported Republican presidential candidates (see February 21, 2012, February 16-17, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, and April 22, 2012), and the efforts of organizations like Crossroads GPS that have to date raised tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates (see May 2, 2012). Toobin believes that the Court will continue to deregulate campaign finance, noting the 2011 decision that invalidated Arizona’s system of public financing that state enacted after a series of campaign finance scandals (see June 27, 2011). He concludes, “The Roberts Court, it appears, will guarantee moneyed interests the freedom to raise and spend any amount, from any source, at any time, in order to win elections.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticisms of the Article - Toobin’s article will engender significant criticism, from nuanced questioning of particular elements of Toobin’s story (see May 14, 2012) to accusations of outright “fictionalizing” (see May 17, 2012) and “libelous” claims (see May 15-17, 2012).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, American Crossroads GPS, Tillman Act, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, John G. Roberts, Jr, Malcolm Stewart, Jeffrey Toobin, Republican Party, Hillary Clinton, Samuel Alito, Federal Election Commission
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens lambasts the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), in which he strongly dissented (see May 14, 2012). Stevens has criticized the decision in earlier statements. He continues that trend in a speech given to the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. He agrees with President Obama’s warning that “foreign entities” could bankroll US elections (see January 27-29, 2010 and October 2010), and challenges the Court to prove that such concerns are “not true,” as Justice Samuel Alito famously mouthed during Obama’s speech at the time by reconciling the Court’s finding that the First Amendment “generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity” with its subsequent decision to uphold a ban on campaign spending by non-citizens in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission (see August 8, 2011). Alito’s reaction to Obama’s warning “persuade[s] me that that in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” Stevens says. In doing so, “it will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.” Stevens is referring to corporations and labor unions as “non-voters,” as is the Canadian citizen who filed the Bluman lawsuit. The Bluman case, Stevens says, “unquestionably provided the Court with an appropriate opportunity to explain why the president had misinterpreted the Court’s opinion in Citizens United. [T]he Court instead took the surprising action of simply affirming the district court without comment and without dissent.” Stevens says the two cases pose a legal conundrum—“notwithstanding the broad language used by the majority in Citizens United, it is now settled, albeit unexplained, that the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” At some point, Stevens says, the Court will have to grapple with the effects of the decision. “I think it is likely that when the Court begins to spell out which categories of non-voters should receive the same protections as the not-for-profit Citizens United advocacy group, it will not only exclude terrorist organizations and foreign agents, but also all corporations owned or controlled by non-citizens, and possibly even those in which non-citizens have a substantial interest. Where that line will actually be drawn will depend on an exercise of judgment by the majority of members of the Court, rather than on any proposition of law identified in the Citizens United majority opinion.” Stevens does not explicitly reference the upcoming Court case where it will have to rule on Montana’s ban on corporate spending (see December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012), but he says the Court was wrong to overturn a precedent that allows states to bar corporate spending from outside their borders. For states such as Montana with those laws in effect, “those corporate non-voters were comparable to the non-voting foreign corporations that concerned President Obama when he criticized the Citizens United majority opinion.” He says, “If the First Amendment does not protect the right of a graduate of Harvard Law School to spend his own money to support the candidate of his choice simply because his Canadian citizenship deprives him of the right to participate in our elections, the fact that corporations may be owned or controlled by Canadians—indeed, in my judgment, the fact that corporations have no right to vote—should give Congress the power to exclude them from direct participation in the electoral process.” [Huffington Post, 5/30/2012; University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, 5/30/2012 ]
Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) writes an article for the Stanford Law Review discussing the dominance of “big money” in the nation’s elections in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), documenting his belief that the rise in small-donor contributions that put Democrats in office in 2006 and 2008 led to the Citizens United backlash, and calling for sweeping campaign finance reform. Feingold writes, “Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.” Feingold heads Progressives United, an advocacy group that pushes for the overturning of the Citizens United decision and campaign finance legislation.
Background - Feingold gives the background of campaign finance reform in America: the 1907 Tillman Act which banned corporations from spending their money in elections (see 1907), which he says was spurred by the realization that “corporate influence corrupts elections”; the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which extended the Tillman ban to labor unions (see June 23, 1947); and more recent legislation, including the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), which Feingold co-authored with Senator John McCain (R-AZ). “And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections,” he writes. “But Citizens United changed everything.” The “road to corruption” in modern elections, he says, began when Democrats in the early 1990s began exploiting a loophole in finance regulation that allowed the creation of “soft money” groups (see January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, and December 10, 2003) that allowed parties to solicit unlimited amounts of donations from corporations, labor unions, and individuals. “This system was corrupting,” Feingold writes. “Senators would solicit gigantic, unregulated contributions from the same corporations that had legislation pending on the Senate floor. Both parties were guilty.” The BCRA plugged the “soft money” loophole. Even as the BCRA began to reform campaign finance practices, Feingold writes, “the same corporate interests that fought McCain-Feingold set to work to dismantle it. In what was clearly an orchestrated effort by opponents of campaign reform (see January 25, 2010), a group called Citizens United produced a movie savaging the record of then-Senator Clinton (see January 10-16, 2008). Ostensibly intended to educate the public about conservative concerns regarding Clinton’s run for the presidency, the film was little more than a legal vehicle to challenge some of the common-sense restrictions enacted by the BCRA (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009). Specifically, the creators of the film sought to challenge the BCRA’s requirement that electioneering communications—commonly known as ‘phony issue ads’ that attack a candidate in the days before the election, but don’t explicitly advocate voting for or against that candidate—be subject to the same disclosure requirements and contribution limits as other campaign ads.” The case was argued on narrow grounds about a specific provision of the BCRA, but the Court’s conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, “manipulated the Court’s process to achieve that result” (see May 14, 2012). Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to the majority opinion, “[F]ive justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.” The ruling, Feingold writes, “created a framework for corruption parallel to ‘soft money.’” Instead of “soft money” organizations, Citizens United led to the creation of the “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, January 13, 2012, and February 20, 2012). It has also called into doubt the legitimacy of US elections themselves, due to the “increasing skepticism about the campaign finance system.” Many voters now believe “that the average participant’s small contribution is irrelevant, and that the average person’s vote is grossly outweighed by the gigantic contributions now allowed.”
Internet Politics and Small-Donor Contributions - In part due to the BCRA, Feingold writes, “[f]or three election cycles, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, our system of campaign financing began to take shape in a way that channeled citizen participation and provided incentive for candidates to turn to the democratic support of online activists and small-dollar contributors.” He cites the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean (D-VT), who went on to chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as the first powerful instance of “online organizing,” using the Internet to garner millions of dollars in small donations from individual citizens. In 2008, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama (D-IL) pushed the Dean innovation even further. The Obama campaign “raised a historic amount in small-dollar contributions,” Feingold writes, and created an online platform to engage supporters. All told, the Obama campaign raised $500 million online.
An Ineffective FEC - By 2008, he writes, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was completely impotent. The agency “has been fatally flawed since the time of its creation—any administrative law professor will point out that a law enforcement commission with an even number of commissioners [six] is probably designed specifically not to enforce the law at all,” he writes. By 2008, the FEC only had two seated commissioners, and in effect was not enforcing campaign laws whatsoever. Even after eventually receiving a full complement of commissioners, he writes, the agency “remains ineffective, as even Democratic violators go unpunished as conservative commissioners remain unwilling, philosophically, to enforce any campaign finance law.”
2012: Corporations Trump Citizens - In 2012, corporate contributions far outweigh small-dollar donations by individuals. “[T]he most prominent actors in the 2012 election cycle are unnamed corporations and a small group of influential—primarily conservative—billionaires.” Seventy percent of registered voters think super PACs should be illegal, according to polls, and the favorability rating of the Court has dropped a significant amount. Overall, Feingold writes, the public is firmly against the Citizens United paradigm of campaign finance. He advocates strong legislation from Congress, fixing the “broken system of presidential public financing,” and replacing the “dysfunctional” FEC “with a true enforcement agency.” The ultimate repair of campaign finance lies with the Court, he says, noting that the Court has a chance to do some early repair with the Montana case it is now considering (see June 25, 2012). Regardless of what the Court does or does not do in the Montana case, he concludes, “[t]oday’s framework for corruption cannot stand.” [Stanford Law Review, 6/14/2012]
Entity Tags: Howard Dean, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Hillary Clinton, Russell D. Feingold, Federal Election Commission, John McCain, John G. Roberts, Jr, Stanford Law Review, John Paul Stevens
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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