In National Review Kevin Williamson writes The Book Burners. Citizens United, he reminds us, was about much more than big money in politics. It was about denying the government the right to ban books and media. It was about the upholding of our most important Constitutional right.
Lost in all of the deeply stupid rhetoric (“Money isn’t speech!”) surrounding the Citizens United case is the fundamental issue that was at question, to wit whether the federal government can censor films of which it disapproves. The film in question was called Hillary: The Movie, and it was very critical of Mrs. Clinton while she was seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. The government attempted to forbid the distribution of the film on the grounds that it was critical of a political figure, which was at the time impermissible, under what is cynically known as “campaign finance” law, unless done in strict compliance with narrow and restrictive federal regulations, and then only at certain times. The Supreme Court rightly threw the law behind that out as rankly unconstitutional censorship of political speech.
What those beef-witted partisans who abuse the word “liberal” fail to appreciate is that the principle behind the so-called campaign-finance laws they support is an open-ended power of federal censorship of all political speech, journalism, literature, films, television, radio, and other communication. Some of the more sinister forces on the left understand that perfectly well, and the glee with which Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders present the proposal of silencing their political critics is both astounding and horrifying.
During the Citizens United arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked Malcolm Stewart, the deputy solicitor general defending the government’s censorship, whether the law would empower Congress to ban books. Stewart affirmed that books too must be subject to “electioneering communication restrictions.” And thus do our so-called liberals become book-burners. That may be of some interest to organizations far outside of the world of conservative activism — donor-supported feminist publishing houses, say, or grant-funded environmentalist documentarians. The leader of the United States Senate is a conservative from Kentucky, and the leader of the United States House of Representatives is a conservative from Wisconsin. The Left would do well to consider just whom it would be empowering to establish a censorship code. Republicans cannot be trusted with that power. Neither can Democrats. Neither can Libertarians, Greens, Freemasons, Elks, Methodists, or other bad hombres — or even good hombres, absolute power corrupting absolutely and all that.
Also in National Review, Mona Charen illuminates the importance of Citizens United in Fear-Mongering about Citizens United Undermines Faith in Elections
Clinton suggests that the decision prevents Americans from knowing who is funding political activity. Citizens United did nothing of the kind. It simply ratified the concept that groups of Americans, whether they come together as labor unions, advocacy groups, or corporations of various kinds, do not lose their right to speak when they join together. Under campaign-finance laws, groups like Citizens United or People for the American Way were prohibited from running ads for or against candidates at any time, and McCain/Feingold extended this prohibition to prevent such groups from even mentioning a candidate in a broadcast ad within 60 days of a general election. The Supreme Court held that such political speech was the essence of the First Amendment.
Contra the Democrats, there is no secret about who is spending what on American elections. Candidates, parties, traditional PACs, and super PACs must all disclose their spending and their donors. When Democrats speak of “dark money” they are creating a bogeyman. Here’s what they’re referring to: When non-profits like Planned Parenthood, trade associations, or the NRA, i.e. groups that devote more than 50 percent of their activities to non-political matters, spend money on political messaging, they do not have to disclose their donors (except funds earmarked for that particular ad). As former SEC chairman Brad Smith explains, this represents a small fraction of total campaign spending. In 2012, it was 4.3 percent. In 2016, it’s coming it at under 3 percent. We know how much they spend, because they must report it. We know what they represent, or in the case of a group like Americans for Prosperity, we can easily find out. And nothing in the Citizens United decision altered disclosure requirements.
Citizens United upheld the most cherished right protected by the Constitution. The disclosure requirements in current law are more extensive than ever before in American history. Moreover, there are some pitfalls in total disclosure, such as exposing those with unpopular viewpoints to harassment. Democrats obscure these essential girders of free speech and demonize the case to suggest that a wealthy, obscure elite has hijacked the political system.
Donald Trump again signaled his contempt for democratic norms by declining to say he’d respect the results of the election. But Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, who stoke mistrust by falsely spinning conspiracy theories of illegitimate, dark forces controlling our system are also to blame for the parlous state of social trust in America.
At least when Donald Trump expresses lack of faith in the election process, he does not propose to gut the Bill of Rights as a solution.