Free the Documentary: Support Citizens United

Debra J. Saunders
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Posted: Oct 02, 2016 12:01 AM
Free the Documentary: Support Citizens United
Hillary Clinton has promised that in her first 30 days as president she will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which she characterized as a "disaster for our democracy." Because Clinton has a better-than-even chance of being elected president, who am I to argue?

The California Legislature is ahead of Clinton. It has placed on the November ballot an advisory measure, Proposition 59, which instructs state officials to use "all their constitutional authority" to overturn the ruling.

It's funny how Democrats talk as if Republicans are rolling in dough, while Dems are stuck passing the hat. The opposite often is true, especially this year. As of Aug. 31, The Washington Post reported, pro-Clinton campaigns had raised almost twice as much money ($795 million) as pro-Trump concerns ($403 million). Bloomberg looked at super PAC money on Sept. 21 and reported that pro-Clinton super PACs raised $153 million and spent $121 million, while pro-Trump super PACs raised $16 million and spent $12 million. That's the Dems outspending the GOP 10-1. Where's the outrage?

Bloomberg recently reported that Clinton campaigns are out-raising money from billionaires on a margin of 20-1 against Trump. If Clinton wants to do something about the corrupting effect of big money in politics, all she has to do is talk to the mirror.

It's a good thing money doesn't buy popularity. At Monday night's presidential debate, Trump ribbed Hillaryland for spending buckets on advertising designed to bury him. Quoth The Donald: "$200 million is spent, and I'm either winning or tied, and I've spent practically nothing."

That's the dirty little secret about campaign spending -- it cannot compensate for a bad candidate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Trump won the GOP primary after spending half the amount that bankrolled the candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was a good candidate who outspent Trump, but he could not win his home state. Like it or not -- I'm on the "not" side -- Trump won the GOP primary because his message popped with GOP voters.

It's laughable that Clinton is proposing a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United because whoever her Supreme Court picks are, they are bound to oppose Citizens United as Clinton has promised to have a litmus test for her Big Bench picks. There would be no need for a constitutional amendment.

The left gets all teary-eyed about the absolute authority in the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obamacare. That ruling is sacrosanct. Citizens United, however, is easy prey -- so easy that state lawmakers are invited to venture into deciding federal law.

"It's become a code word for everything you dislike about politics," Bradley Smith, former Federal Election Commission chair and now chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, told me. The public has come to think that a reversal of Citizens United will end the supersize role of money, especially corporate money, in politics. They forget that the 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the government's authority to censor a political documentary. The conservative group Citizens United had produced an unflattering 90-minute film called, "Hillary: The Movie." The FEC prohibited the film's airing on pay-per-view stations to comply with the 2002 McCain-Feingold ban on "electioneering communications" funded by corporations or labor within 30 days of a presidential primary.

If the Big Bench were to overturn Citizens United, Smith added, the court likely will make it "impossible to air a documentary movie close to the election" -- whether the filmmaker is Citizens United or Michael Moore -- but would not cleanse politics of corporate funds.

Jeffrey Toobin reported as much in the New Yorker. "'People use Citizens United as shorthand for all the problems of money in politics, but in fact the decision itself had little to do with money in politics, and reversing it would do little or nothing to remove money in politics,'" Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School who also worked in the Obama Justice Department told him.

Because of all the misinformation, expect Californians to approve Prop. 59. But the measure likely would fail if its effects were characterized more accurately. Smith's suggestion: "We should make (Prop. 59) an up-or-down vote on whether the government ought to be able to censor political documentaries." Voter, beware. A truly apolitical ban wouldn't apply to conservatives only.