Almost two years ago Citizens United succeeded in its lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission. In this groundbreaking case the Supreme Court made clear that the First Amendment, at its core, protects political speech, regardless of the speaker’s identity.
Our victory has been subject to numerous unwarranted attacks. President Obama used the decision to attack the Supreme Court during a State of the Union address. It led liberal members of Congress to attempt to pass legislation that would have chilled the freedom of speech. Some members of Congress have gone so far as to advocate for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that would overturn the First Amendment.
In the two years since the decision I’ve grown accustomed to Democrats demagoguing the case and the political speech that it and the Constitution protect. I have not, and will not, grow accustomed to Republicans trying to do the same. If you are a Conservative, who believes in our nation’s founding principles and documents, how could you possibly advocate abridging the Freedom of Speech?
That concept was very foreign to me until last week when a candidate for the Republican nomination decided to wage war on the First Amendment. Governor Mitt Romney, in an appearance on MSNBC, launched the following assault on the First Amendment:
“They set up these new entities, which I think is a disaster, by the way. Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season.” He also added “we really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these Super PACs.”
Super PACs are the logical outgrowth of the Citizens United decision and a subsequent decision in SpeechNow v. FEC. These cases made clear that Congress cannot silence independent political speech. Romney’s call for the silencing of Super PACs is an affront to the First Amendment. This affront is particularly self serving – if the real problem is the negative ads that his supporters are running, he could have called on them to silence themselves rather than attacking the entire system and the independent political speech that it represents. If Romney is truly incensed by independent political speech he can unilaterally disarm like John McCain did in 2008. By the way, President Obama is not willing to pursue this strategy at all. After attacking Citizens United for a year, President Obama is now allowing Super PACs to support him.
This past August, Romney appeared to defend Citizens United at a campaign appearance where he proclaimed “corporations are people my friend.” He took some flak for that statement, but the First Amendment principles that it represented are sound. Sticking to a principled Conservative position isn’t a common occurrence for Romney and not surprisingly it didn’t last long.
Perhaps he’s chosen to walk back his support of the First Amendment because of the reaction he received or because some polling has revealed it to be unpopular. If that’s the case, I have some words of warning.
Governor Romney, despite what your polls or the political winds may be telling you, this is not a winning strategy. President Obama and liberals nationwide spent nearly two years campaigning against Citizens United and the First Amendment. Their track record speaks for itself – Republicans made historic gains in 2010 by running on bedrock Conservative principles that included the notion that more speech is better for a robust Democracy than less speech.
Governor Romney, take a principled stand in favor of the First Amendment – because it’s what we Conservatives believe in.