One Year Post Citizens United, Deep Divide Remains

January 20, 2011 9:56 a.m.

One year after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate influence of elections, a deep divide still remains over whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing for the county. And both sides think the Founding Fathers would be on their side.Liberal and conservative lawyers offered their take on Citizens United on Thursday at a panel organized by Public Campaign and held at the Capitol Visitors Center.

On one side, there were the supporters of the ruling: Cleta Mitchell, the self-described “consigliere to the vast right wing conspiracy” who served as counsel for several prominent candidates in 2010 including Christine O’Donnell; and Michael Boos, the Vice President and General Counsel for Citizens United itself.

Then there were the opposition: Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and George Washington University School of Law Professor Spencer Overton, who argued that the influx of money had a corrosive influence.

But Boos said liberals were exaggerating how much money was flowing into campaigns.

“There isn’t some big jump into the billions by any one corporation,” Boos said, adding that he’d opposed regulation like the DISCLOSE Act, which he said would impose “draconian” reporting requirements. Boos also said that some of the levels limiting contributions hadn’t been updated for decades and needed to be reexamined.

He also said the Founding Fathers engaged in anonymous speech themselves and would support the rights of corporations to do the same.

“When people pool their resources, they can speak more effectively,” Boos said. There’s nothing inherently wrong with pooling money together, he argued.

Mitchell said that the complaints liberals had about unlimited campaign spending were just sour grapes since conservatives ramped up their efforts in 2010.

“I never heard that kind of complaining in the 2006 cycle, in the 2008 cycle,” when Mitchell said the left had the advantage of unions and groups she claimed were run by George Soros.

“Isn’t it really true that what the left… is concerned about is that conservatives might have as much of an opportunity to speak as the unions and the very well funded liberal groups?” Mitchell asked Lessig.

But Lessig said he didn’t think the government should try to put limits on speech.

“In my view, the issue is not whether one side has a louder voice than the other,” Lessig said. “What I think the problem is not whether the speech is equalized, it’s whether people perceive that the government is responsive to the voters and not the funders.”

Mitchell said that campaigns are being driven not by large corporations, but by small donations that come through on the Internet.

“Money is no longer a barrier to an outsider candidate who has the right beliefs,” Mitchell said.

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