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Huffington Post: “Wrong” Speech Is Also Free Speech: Citizens United at Two

From Trevor Burrus, a legal associate at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies:

Sen. Sanders and Mr. Weissman thus demonstrate a crucial fact: many who oppose Citizens United do so because they want to silence speech that promotes policies they oppose. They want to silence it because they think it is bad speech that gives a disproportionate influence to bad ideas. Yet there can be no greater violation of the First Amendment than to act with this motive.

Critics of the decision cite the “undue influence” corporations can have on elections through such mechanisms as “drowning out [candidates’] messages” with “misleading negative ads.” Sean Siperstein writes about a new campaign by Public Citizen to expose the “mega-corporations” that are most “responsible for greedy, disastrously short-sighted policies, to the detriment of the rest of us.”

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These critiques blur the line between one type of influence that the Supreme Court has acknowledged should be stopped — outright candidate bribery — and other types of influence that are strongly protected by the First Amendment — such as affecting the national debate or influencing candidates’ policies by making both them and the public aware of issues. Critics of Citizens United often conflate these two types of political spending, regarding all corporate spending as either corrupting the national debate through disproportionate influence, or corrupting politicians through something tantamount to bribery.

The First Amendment does not allow anyone to pursue his vision of a better world through censorship. Although we’d all love the liars and shouters to be silenced, the First Amendment forbids such censorship precisely because there is no way to agree on who is a liar and who is “too loud.” Those determinations are too intertwined with our ideological commitments.

Although I agree with Sen. Sanders and Mr. Weissman that money may have too much influence on politics, perhaps we should address this problem by creating a government that lacks the power to reward undue influence — that is, a limited government that cannot determine whether someone succeeds or fails in life — and not by stifling free speech.

Read more here.

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