In a must-read column today, George Will discusses a potential challenge to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that the high court will consider taking up in a few weeks.
Roll Call reports on the background of the case: “The high court signaled this week that it would meet in private conference on June 14 to decide how to proceed in the case, which turns on a constitutional challenge to a 100-year-old Montana corporate spending ban. The Citizens United ruling, which ended decades-old limits on direct corporate and union spending, technically nullified the Montana law. But the state refused to take its corporate spending ban off the books. A trio of corporations then challenged the ban as unconstitutional, but in December the state Supreme Court sided with Montana and upheld the law. The Supreme Court stayed that ruling in February. The high court will now decide as early as June 15-18 whether to summarily reject the state Supreme Court’s ruling, as the corporations challenging the law have requested.”
Will explains, “Three Montana corporations sued to bring the state into conformity with Citizens United by overturning a 100-year-old state law, passed when copper and other corporations supposedly held sway, that bans all corporate political spending. The state’s Supreme Court refused to do this, citing Montana’s supposedly unique susceptibility to corporate domination — an idea amusingly discordant with the three corporations’ failure even to persuade the state court to acknowledge the supremacy of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Will writes, “Reasons for the Supreme Court to reconsider Citizens United are nonexistent. The ruling’s primary effect has been to give unions and incorporated nonprofit advocacy groups freedom to spend what they choose on political speech as long as they do not coordinate with candidates or campaigns. Campaign ‘reformers,’ who advocate speech rationing, apparently regard evidence irrelevant to argument, probably because there is no evidence for their assertion that 2012 has been dominated by corporate money unleashed by Citizens United. An amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Congress’s staunchest defender of the First Amendment, notes:
“Through March 31, the eight leading super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates received contributions totaling $96,410,614. Of this, $83,220,167 (86.32 percent) came from individuals, only $13,190,447 (13.68 percent) from corporations, and only 0.81 percent from public companies.McConnell says, “Not a single one of the Fortune 100 companies has contributed a cent” to any of the eight super PACS. These facts refute such prophesied nightmares as The Post’s fear that corporate money “may now overwhelm” individuals’ contributions.”
Will also points out, “Before Citizens United removed restrictions on independent expenditures by for-profit corporations, a majority of states already had no such restrictions. Neither did they have records of distinctively bad behavior. Indisputably, this year’s super PACs have, as McConnell’s brief says, ‘led to more political debate over a lengthier period of time during which more voters had the opportunity to participate in the choice of a presidential candidate.’ As McConnell notes, the Montana court’s ruling is ‘disdainful’ and disobedient regarding the Citizens Uniteddecision, but this lawlessness is not what bothers many people who think of themselves as defenders of good government. Instead,” Will argues, “much of the media and most liberals urge Americans to be scandalized about ‘too much money’ in politics. That three-word trope means (because most political money is spent on the dissemination of political advocacy) that there is more political speech by others than is considered proper by much of the media, which are unrestricted advocates.”
As Will concludes, “The collapse of liberals’ confidence in their ability to persuade is apparent in their concentration on rigging the rules of political persuasion. Their problem is that the First Amendment is the rule.”