Citizens United gets all of the attention: the protests, the whole being called the “Dred Scott of our generation” thing. But if you really think that super PACs are the root of all evil, then you ought to take your attention elsewhere. All Citizens United permitted was corporate or union independent expenditures. Under Citizens United, as long as it did not coordinate with any candidate or cause, MillerCoors can run ads, paid for from their general treasury, attacking President Obama for drinking a Bud Light at the much-vaunted 2009 White House Beer Summit. But nothing in the opinion asserts that Pete Coors could pour unlimited contributions into the coffers of, say, Americans for a Shiny America, an independent expenditure only committee that would run ads in favor of candidates who pledge to air Firefly re-runs on PBS.
The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) helped out an organization that wanted to do just that. (Well, minus the Firefly re-runs.) Together with the Institute for Justice, we represented SpeechNow.org–a group then headed by our current president, David Keating–in Federal court against a government that was attempting to limit the amount of resources available to SpeechNow, a committee that just wanted to talk about politics without actually giving money to or working with the politicians.
On March 26th, 2010, SpeechNow.org v. FEC was handed down by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; and the much unfairly maligned “super PAC” (or independent expenditure-only committee) was born. Today, the super PAC turns two. Super PACs are the exact opposite of what the pro-regulation community wants. For decades, the speech regulators have fought to squelch as much independent speech as possible. The ultimate end-goal of many of these folks is so-called “voter-owned” elections…and by that they mean that the government gets to predetermine which candidates are worthy of financial support and then is allowed to shower those candidates with money.