President Obama Issues False Statement on Citizens United

President Obama issued this statement on Citizens United’s 5th Anniversary:

Our democracy works best when everyone’s voice is heard, and no one’s voice is drowned out.  But five years ago, a Supreme Court ruling allowed big companies – including foreign corporations – to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.  The Citizens United decision was wrong, and it has caused real harm to our democracy.  With each new campaign season, this dark money floods our airwaves with more and more political ads that pull our politics into the gutter.  It’s time to reverse this trend.  Rather than bolster the power of lobbyists and special interests, Washington should lift up the voices of ordinary Americans and protect their democratic right to determine the direction of the country that we love.

I’m no fan of Citizens United. But the part about “foreign corporations” is clearly wrong. The President first made that statement at the State of the Union 5 years ago, with the Justices in attendance. Justice Alito mouthed “not true.”  And it was not true. Citizens United put the foreign money issue to the side. Since then, the Court summarily affirmed the Bluman v. FEC case, upholding the constitutionality of the foreign spending ban (including bans on foreign corporations).  Now it may be that foreign money is getting into our elections, but that’s not because the Supreme Court called it kosher.

(Byron Tau calls the statement “muddled” because CU did not empower lobbyists. That’s more debatable.  The foreign money point is not.)

I’ll have much more on this aspect of the Citizens United controversy, and much more on the role of money in politics, in my campaign finance book in progress.

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