Congress Shall Make No Law...
3:33 PM
Jacob Sullum Debunks the Demonization of Citizens United

From his excellent article on


Last week The New York Times reported that “outside groups supporting Republican candidates in House and Senate races across the country have been swamping their Democratic-leaning counterparts on television.” The paper worried that “a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.”


The Times said “Democratic officials” believed “corporate interests, newly emboldened by regulatory changes, are trying to “buy the election.” In short, the spending patterns “seem to be a fulfillment of Democrats’ worst fears after the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case.”


Except that, as the Times conceded, “it is not clear...whether it is actually an influx of new corporate money unleashed by the Citizens United decision that is driving the spending chasm.” Other factors—“notably, a political environment that favors Republicans”—might be at work. In fact, most of the spending cited in the story was by rich individuals or by groups organized under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, both of which were legal before Citizens United.


Further undermining the thesis that the decision explains the Republicans' spending edge, the Times noted that “corporations have so far mostly chosen not to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling to directly sponsor campaign ads.” And while they might be “funneling more money into campaigns through some of these independent groups,” corporations “had the right to make such contributions before the ruling.”


Jacob concludes his piece by reminding us that lots of money in politics isn’t a scary thing: “No matter how shadowy or flush with corporate dollars an interest group is, the only thing Citizens United allowed it to do is speak. Advocacy has no impact unless it persuades people.”


Well said. As the Supreme Court emphasized in Citizens United, “The First Amendment confirms our right to think for ourselves.” Lots of free speech—including the speech of those who would prefer to remain anonymous—is frightening only if you believe that the public is made up of mindless automatons that are incapable of exercising that right.


Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed before, that’s the view that is shared by politicians and others who champion the cause of “campaign finance reform.” If they placed the same trust in the public that the Founders did when they crafted the First Amendment, they would be celebrating, rather than demonizing, Citizens United. And they would hope that Citizens United would result in lots more political speech—not just in this election season, but in all those that follow.