Democrats have been railing against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling for nearly seven years now, yet it often seems that they’ve forgotten what the case was actually about. Writing at National Review, Kevin Williamson provides a helpful reminder:
Lost in all of the deeply stupid rhetoric (“Money isn’t speech!”) surrounding the Citizens United case is the fundamental issue that was at question, to wit whether the federal government can censor films of which it disapproves. The film in question was called Hillary: The Movie, and it was very critical of Mrs. Clinton while she was seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. The government attempted to forbid the distribution of the film on the grounds that it was critical of a political figure, which was at the time impermissible, under what is cynically known as “campaign finance” law, unless done in strict compliance with narrow and restrictive federal regulations, and then only at certain times. The Supreme Court rightly threw the law behind that out as rankly unconstitutional censorship of political speech.
If we follow the logic of many Democrats, not all political speech is created equal. Indeed, Democrats frequently argue that political speech by individuals is different from political speech by corporations. Yet corporations include media companies. And if media companies have a First Amendment right to spend money on political speech, then non-media companies do too.
No less a liberal than Michael Kinsley made this point four years ago:
If “money isn’t speech,” as many a New York Times editorial has declared, may the government put a limit on how much a corporation can spend publishing a newspaper? The law Citizens United overturned actually exempted media companies from its spending limits. But the difficulty — impossibility, really — of defining a media company and explaining why it should have more rights than any other company suggests that a right granted to one company should be granted to all.
As Williamson notes, “The First Amendment is intended to protect many kinds of speech, not just journalism. In fact, the First Amendment is intended to protect political advocacy full stop.”
It’s troubling to think of how many Democrats no longer believe that.