You’ve heard it over, and over, and over again:
The Citizens United decision empowered corporations!
Or, let’s do an official one, from an HP writer : it “unleashed independent unlimited spending of unlimited contributions by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, and labor unions in federal elections.”
When, in 2011, Dina Galassini of Fountain Hills, Ariz., wanted to oppose her citys plan to augment its spending with a $29.6 million bond issue, she sent e-mails encouraging 23 friends and acquaintances to write letters of opposition to newspapers and to join her in a demonstration. Six days later, the town clerk sternly admonished her: I would strongly encourage you to cease any campaign-related activities until the requirements of the law have been met.
Arizonas law says that whenever two or more people collaborate, using at least $250, to influence voters about anything, they instantly become a political committee, a magical transformation that triggers various requirements registering with the government, filling out forms, and establishing a bank account for the committee even if it has no intention of raising money. All this must be done before members of the committee are permitted to speak. Galassini got no response when she wrote to the clerk to find out if she could have permission to e-mail the 23 persons to tell them the demonstrations were canceled.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona supported Galassini. It had to, given that Citizens United said laws requiring official permission to speak function as the equivalent of prior restraint by giving the [government] power analogous to licensing laws implemented in 16th- and 17th-century England, laws and governmental practices of the sort that the First Amendment was drawn to prohibit.
Liberals who love the regulatory state loathe Citizens United. You can understand why.
We can have a debate about what the ideal campaign-finance system would look like, and the role of the First Amendment in shaping it. Of course, the con-law in this area is, contrary to most liberal spokespersons, hard, which is why almost no-one reads much of Citizens United, or even Buckley v. Valeo . You try teaching them, and you’ll see what I mean. But, beyond that, the reality of what happened to Ms. Galassini has to be faced by liberals. Shouting “but corporations, corporations, corporations” doesn’t begin to.