The Supreme Court issued its landmark opinion in Citizens United v. FEC one year ago today. That case allowed corporations and labor unions to make independent expenditures for or against political candidates. An editorial in today’s Washington Post by the President of Citizens United and its lead counsel argues that the hysteria following that decision was unfounded because the amount spent by citizen groups in the last election paled in comparison to the amount spent by the Democratic and Republican parties and by the candidates themselves. Rather, the authors argue, the primary political speech to come out of the Supreme Court’s decision has been that of independents, and politicians are upset by this because they cannot control the speech of independents.
As a reminder, the Supreme Court case arose as a result of a film directed against then Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Citizens United was a nonprofit corporation that produced the film, and there was debate whether this was a "documentary" or an "electioneering communication," as well as whether distribution via video on demand constituted "public distribution" of the film. The Supreme Court found that the film was indeed an "electioneering communication" and that VOD was likewise a public distribution of the film. Thus, Citizens United ran smack up against the FEC prohibition on independent corporate political expenditures.