Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee

A couple of weeks ago Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg gave several media interviews that then rightly brought her a torrent of criticism.  In the portion that drew the most attention, she rather un-judicially stated a preference for one candidate over the other in the midst of the current presidential campaign.  But in other parts of the interviews that you may not have noticed, she engaged in even more inappropriate conduct by indicating in advance how she would rule on various issues likely to come before the Court.  Basically, she said in so many words that she has already pre-judged pretty much all of the most important issues likely to come before the Court any time soon, and don't waste your breath trying to persuade her otherwise.  OK, we already knew that, but do you have to be quite so explicit?  In one of her most over-the-top statements, she is quoted by Adam Liptak of the New York Times on July 10 as having said "I’d love to see Citizens United overruled."

Most readers here probably have heard of Citizens United, but for those who don't know the specifics, here's the gist.  A corporate entity by that name made a movie called "Hillary: The Movie," critical of Hillary Clinton, and wanted to exhibit it, and promote it with advertising, in the windows immediately preceding various of the 2008 presidential primaries.  The so-called Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often referred to as McCain-Feingold) had a provision that explicitly prohibited the spending of corporate funds for such "electioneering communications" by corporate entities in those time windows.  Citizens United brought suit seeking to enjoin the Federal Election Commission from enforcing that provision as a violation of the First Amendment.  The lower court denied the injunction under the terms of McCain-Feingold, but the Supreme Court reversed and invalidated the relevant provision as unconstitutional.  Justice Ginsberg joined a dissenting opinion.

There are probably very few issues on which Hillary Clinton and the Notorious RBG disagree, and the desirability of overruling Citizens United is definitely not one of them.  Indeed, as reported here by John Hinderaker of PowerLine, in a speech on July 16, Hillary promised to make the overruling of Citizens United one of her top priorities, and to introduce a constitutional amendment to accomplish that goal within 30 days of taking office (assuming she is elected).  Of course, another view is that overtly political "judges" like RBG have zero respect for precedent that gets in the way of their political objectives.  All Hillary would really need to do as President would be to appoint another couple of RBG's lockstep ideological comrades to the Court, and they would promptly take care of doing away with Citizens United and the rest of the First Amendment as soon as a new case could reach them.  (The Second Amendment would not be far behind.)  

So what's the big problem with Citizens United?  To listen to the narrative of Hillary and her supporters, it's just a question of "getting too much money out of politics."  Does that sound plausible?  Or is that just some spin to justify statutory provisions cynically designed to advantage one side of the political divide and disadvantage the other?  Let's consider some of the current status of "money in politics."

First, the status of the current money-raising race between the two main presidential contenders.  The New York Times has figures in a June 22 article covering candidate FEC reports through April 30.   Hillary had raised $334.9 million, including $238.2 million by her campaign and $96.7 million by super-PACs supporting her.  Trump had raised $67.1 million, including $64.6 by the campaign and $2.5 million by super-PACs supporting him.  And how about current spending level?  Here's a Los Angeles Times article from June 19, reporting that Hillary had launched a $23 million advertising campaign in eight "battleground" states (Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire).  Trump's comparable level of spending in the same states according to the article?  $0. 

Do you think that Hillary might have strong fundraising support from so-called "small donors"?  Don't kid yourself.  The best way of looking at Hillary's campaign fundraising operation is as "protection money" from those with a lot to lose from government predation.  The FEC defines "small donors" as those who give the campaign less than $200.  Below that level, you don't have to report a donor's name.  According to this report from Politifact on March 21 (covering donations through February), Bernie Sanders had raised some 70% of all his individual donations from that category.  Hillary?  19%.  Even Trump was at 22%, and many of the Republicans were well above that.  (Cruz was at 42%.)

But put aside all these officially-reported campaign funds, and consider what else the Clintons have out there -- namely, the "Foundation" and the speaking fees.  According to this CNN report from February, the two Clintons had been paid some $153 million for 729 speeches since 2001 -- an average of a little over $200,000 per speech.  And recognize that everybody knew that Hillary was planning during that time to run for President (let alone that she was a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State for much of the time).  So when they count up the "money in politics," does any of that count?  When Citizens United gets overruled and all the McCain-Feingold restrictions go back into effect, does any of that get restricted?  Of course not.  Even if the people who paid for the speeches were people with issues before the State Department or prospective issues before a future President?  (As just one example, CNN says that at least $7.7 million of the total was from speeches to "big banks," including Goldman Sachs and UBS.)  Doesn't count.  How about if someone pays Bill Clinton $250,000 to give a speech even after Hillary has become a candidate?  Daily Caller on May 17 claims to have identified $2.7 million of such.  Also doesn't count. 

And then there's the Foundation.  According to the Washington Post from February 2015 here, the Foundation raised close to $2 billion from 2001 to 2013.  (Funny, I haven't seen anything more on this from the Post more recently.)  That's paid for lots of the Clintons' travel and lifestyle, and kept their names in public, plus kept a whole proto-campaign organization together and ready to go.  Lots of the money has come from the likes of Middle Eastern oil interests and other foreign potentates who are specifically prohibited from contributing to American political campaigns.  Anyway, don't worry, none of this counts either.

Rest assured: whatever further "campaign finance" restrictions Hillary can manage to get through -- whether via a constitutional amendment, a reversal of Citizens United, or some new statute following a new Supreme Court ruling -- it is one hundred percent certain that those restrictions will be specifically designed to disadvantage Mrs. Clinton's adversaries and silence her critics, while somehow missing whatever are her own main sources of funding and support.