California’s senator-elect, Kamala Harris, staked out the repeal of Citizens United as one of her priorities when she enters office, tweeting that it had to be repealed “because we know Citizens United really means Citizens Divided.”
The rhetoric is worthy of President-elect Donald Trump, who has a habit of insisting criticism of him is unfair. Repealing Citizens United would make it more difficult for corporations and other organized groups to exercise their free speech in the political realm.
Liberal opponents of Citizens United should have had enough examples over the last year or so to rethink their reflexive position on the Supreme Court case. From the corporations organizing boycotts and speaking out against North Carolina’s LGBT discrimination law to the candy companies that spoke out against Trump, it ought to be clear that corporate free speech doesn’t track with the stereotypes peddled by the left. Citizens United also made films like Michael Moore’s anti-Trump Trumpland possible to release just weeks before the election—as it should be in a country that says it values free speech.
Hillary Clinton, the subject of the film that was at the center of Citizens United, called the case “tragic,” but Trump may not be much better. Some progressives believe he’s on their side given his rhetoric about the influence of “big money” on politics. Forget that there’s little evidence that campaign spending actually significantly influence electoral results, or that Clinton’s failure to win despite a cash advantage provides a compelling anecdote against the idea that money drives electoral results—the presence of Donald Trump in the White House should give progressives who want to limit political speech cause to pause. Campaign spending restrictions are often used by the politicians in power to reinforce the incumbency advantage and squash dissent.
With a president-elect like Donald Trump who doesn’t seem to understand freedom of the press, the protections offered by Citizens United, which covers not just large multinational corporations but newspapers and non-profit corporations as well ought to be reinforced, not attacked for perceived short-term political gain.