Evidently alarmed that our national politics had become insufficiently corrupt, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that most federal restraints on campaign spending are unlawful. In a 5-4 vote on Citizens United v.FEC, the Roberts court found that corporations can dip freely into their treasuries to fund political advertising–in this instance, an anti-Hillary Clinton documentary marketed in several pay-on-demand movie markets before the Federal Elections Commission cried foul and suspended distribution of the corporate-funded agitprop. The ruling also effectively rolls back many curbs on “soft-money” campaign financing–the coy corporate practice of doling out dosh on candidates’ behalf via dummy interest-group expenditures–during the homestretch of elections that were instituted in the already weak McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy stirringly pronounced that “the censorship we confront is now vast in its reach,” neglecting of course to mention that virtually every other Western democracy has far stricter curbs on rampant private-sector electioneering while also mysteriously permitting their private citizens to express themselves just fine.
This decision comes as no great surprise, given the intensely probusiness conservative complexion of the Roberts court. Over in the panel’s sane minority, John Paul Stevens issued an opinion declaring that “the court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation.” We still prefer the former South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings’ blunt assertion that corporate funded campaign messages don’t constitute free speech so much as “bought speech”–and can be justly regulated like other shiny products trafficking in the consumer marketplace, such as, oh, Bridgestone/Firestone tires and China-manufactured toys and dog food. But who are we to be such doom-and-gloom killjoys? Mitch McConnell, the next round is on–well, let’s go with the porn industry, why don’t we? Why stop with bought speech, after all, when our political and judicial leaders are so very comfortable with the full-body version?