Everybody is familiar with the standard theory regarding the Citizens United decision. Former comedian and current earnest socialist Sarah Silverman puts it this way: “Every politician takes money from Big Money, ever since it was made legal with Citizens United.”
Like most folks who talk this way, she doesn’t give a squeak of context. She barely even indicates that it was a Supreme Court case, 2010’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. She does not mention at all that the ruling overturned the FEC’s act of suppressing a political movie.
But there is a much wider context than such bare facts — and if you want a good synopsis, you could hardly do better than read my friend Krist Novoselic’s calm, reasoned “look at the history of attempts to regulate independent campaign expenditures.”
This “modern history” started with what the New York Times called Richard Nixon’s “revolution in political financing.” The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 “required detailed disclosure of campaign contributions; set campaign contribution limits to candidates, parties and committees; set expenditure limits on campaigns, independent groups and individuals and created the first public financing of presidential campaigns and national conventions.”
And almost immediately the law began suppressing political speech and advertising. And led to a long series of court cases.
That define our times.
Krist (with whom I serve on the board of FairVote.org) provides the context you need to see through what he aptly calls “the hype” about “Citizens United,” as well as how the decision correctly removed the license given to the FEC’s role as “state censorship board.”
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.