Freedom of speech is not the problem

Published on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 22:22 - Written by

The IRS scandal is “over,” according to one top Democrat. If that’s true — and we’re hoping it’s not — then the First Amendment could end up being the fall guy.

Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said on Sunday that the GOP should consider the scandal to be concluded, after an as-yet-unnamed IRS official acknowledged in an interview that he was the one who started the targeting of conservative groups — and claimed it wasn’t political.

“I think this interview and these statements go a long way … showing that the White House was not involved in this,” Cummings said on a Sunday morning talk show. “Based upon everything I’ve seen the case is solved. And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you.”

Whether that interview, when (and if) released, clears things up — or whether it turns out to be another falsifiable claim made by this administration — may not matter.

Because the Democrats’ narrative seems to be that the real fault lies with the First Amendment, as held by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

“These actions highlight why we must overturn Citizens United,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters recently. “There is a very thin line … that these so-called ‘social welfare’ organizations must make their priority promoting social welfare, rather than engaging in politics. Clearly, this has not been [the case]... I paint everybody with the same brush, right to left. I think it all should go.”

But what is Citizens United?

“A quick refresher,” explains Reason magazine’s Bart Hinkle. “Once upon a time a private group, Citizens United, made a political film called ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ The group wanted to run TV ads for the movie and air it during the 2008 election season. But since the film was partly underwritten with corporate money, under the law in effect at the time this was forbidden. So Citizens United sued. The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court.”

During the oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts asked if a book, like a movie, could be banned under the law. Those arguing in favor of the law acknowledged that, under that law, books could be banned if they took a particular side in an election.

“A five-justice majority on the court quite correctly recoiled at this, and concluded that corporations and unions could spend money to speak their minds about candidates,” Hinkle explains.

Though unions were one of the real beneficiaries of this, the left howled. Pelosi and others have pledged to work on a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision, and crack down on the non-profit groups (501(c)4s) that arose out of it.

But that’s misguided. Evidence shows that Citizens United hasn’t swayed elections. Both sides increased their spending.

Our republic stands on the freedom of speech, especially political speech. And that means that more speech, not less, is a good thing.

That’s why if the IRS scandal blows over, with no real accountability, the real loser will be the First Amendment.