Democrats often seem to cite certain events as the world is going to end if, or when, they happen -- whether it was Al Gore’s climate disaster by 2016 or the end of the internet when FEC Chair Ajit Pai ended net neutrality. This week another anniversary of one of those doomsday events occurred, the tenth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC which was decided on January 21, 2010. As Cato scholar Ilya Shapiro wrote on the fifth anniversary:
President Obama’s famous statement during his 2010 State of the Union Address: “The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates of special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”
In that one sentence, the former law professor made four errors that are all too common.
Mr. Obama was wrong in almost every respect about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which the court decided on Jan. 21, 2010. Hysterical predictions about Citizens United-then-Rep. Ed Markey, among others, compared it to Dred Scott-haven't held up.
Contrary to Mr. Obama's assertion about a century of law, Citizens United overturned portions of McCain-Feingold, a campaign-finance law that wasn't even 10 years old, and another law from 1947. Those laws prohibited unions and corporations, including nonprofits, from voicing support for or opposition to candidates for federal office.
Citizens United didn't affect the longstanding ban on corporate contributions to candidates, and it didn't legalize foreign political spending in the U.S. Most Russian online ads in 2016 would have been protected under the First Amendment even before Citizens United, because the ads didn't urge a vote for or against a candidate.
Far from handing power to the 1%, Citizens United unleashed rapid political diversification. Since the ruling, the White House or Congress has changed parties in every federal election except 2012. Twenty eighteen saw the highest midterm voter turnout in a century. Small-dollar donors are more coveted than ever. Donald Trump raised more money from donors who gave less than $200 than any candidate in history.
Others weighed in as well:
"Ten years ago the U.S. Supreme Court vindicated the free speech rights of individuals and associations spending independently on elections," John Samples, vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, told The Hill...
"While Citizens United hasn't resulted in a flood of corporate cash 'drowning out' ordinary voices, it has allowed new, often very important, voices to be heard," Scott Blackburn, research director at the Institute for Free Speech, wrote in a report for the anniversary. "The decision not only protects the right to speak, but it protects the right of Americans to hear those voices."
President Obama’s wild assertions aside, the last word goes to Citizens United President David Bossie with the reality of the Citizens United case:
"If people want to band together to spend money to influence an election, it’s their First Amendment right to do so, but the Left's dire predictions about corporate money taking over our elections never transpired," said Citizens United President David Bossie.
In the decision, the high court ruled in favor of Bossie's group, a conservative organization that was seeking to distribute and advertise a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton but was prevented from doing so by corporate spending prohibitions.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a longstanding prohibition on corporations and unions making independent expenditures, that is, financing election-related communications, violated the First Amendment. The ruling did not strike down limits on direct campaign contributions, which still exist today.