In a speech in St. Louis last month, William Freivogel argued that the Citizens United SCOTUS decision would not materially alter the campaign finance scene that already exists. He urged that we opt for protecting free speech, even if that means agreeing that big business gets a free hand in influencing our elections. That’s one attitude. Justice John Paul Stevens has the opposite reaction. Jeffrey Toobin, writing about Stevens in the New Yorker, mentioned Stevens’ take on the free speech issue:
Stevens’s ninety-page dissenting opinion in Citizens United (the longest of his career) was joined in full by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, and was a slashing attack on the majority, laden with sarcastic asides. “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech,” he wrote.
At the end of March, a Court of Appeals ruling expanded Citizens United. The D.C. Appeals Court struck down limits on contributions to political groups that spend money on campaigns. Whereas Citizens United allowed corporations to spend all the money they wanted on ads, this latest decision saves them the trouble of making the ads and being forced to admit they approve of the ads. Now they can simply contribute all they want to any group that spends money on campaigns. Citing Citizens United as precedent, the D.C. Appeals Court ruled that the $5,000 limit on such contributions was unconstitutional.
The RNC did suffer a defeat in court on the corporate contributions front, but even that may soon be another victory for them. A D.C. District Court rejected a bid by the RNC to get the McCain-Feingold soft money ban struck down. Michael Steele has confirmed that the RNC will appeal to the Supreme Court. Indeed, the three judge District Court panel wrote that it expects SCOTUS to take the case and clarify this issue, and that it didn’t want to get ahead of the Supreme Court in its own ruling. In other words, more bad news is almost surely on the way.
Stevens, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Sotomayor will be unable to help us save our democracy. Only the public campaign finance bill in Congress can do that. The Fair Elections Now Act has 140 co-sponsors in the House–two more than it had the last time I mentioned this on March 13th. Clay is still in that number. Carnahan and Cleaver still are not. Nor is Ike Skelton, of course. Please call Carnahan and Cleaver if you’re in either one’s district. The Senate has gained another co-sponsor (from eleven to twelve), but it isn’t Claire McCaskill. We should all call her.