Free Speech Is Winning, Thanks to Citizens United

In the nearly five years since Citizens United v. FEC was decided, more Americans than ever are exercising their First Amendment rights and engaging in political speech. The results are in: political speech and spending are up. While spending is up across the board, the real winners have been Republican candidates for office.

A new study, “The Business of American Democracy: Citizens United, Independent Spending and Elections,” analyzes state legislative elections that have occurred since the decision and finds that "Citizens United v. FEC was associated with a six percentage-point increase in the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race."

Democrats have been slow to exercise the rights that were restored by Citizens United, while Republicans have embraced the decision and rallied to support candidates they believe in.

The study finds the decision has had a real impact on state House races. While the study found that due to post-Citizens United spending, Republicans in state legislative races generally have a six percentage point increase in likelihood of winning, the results on an individual state level are more interesting. In six states, the likelihood of a Republican win increased by ten or more percentage points. These states included Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee. In an additional five states, the likelihood of a Republican win was increased by seven percentage points. These are real numbers and have a real impact.

The authors are quick to attribute this Citizens United bump to corporations exercising their First Amendment rights and making expenditures that benefit Republicans, while unions have failed to increase their spending on behalf of Democrats. Don’t forget that for decades unions have had an ability to invest in elections, while corporations have been largely restricted. The Citizens United decision ensured that any speaker--whether an individual, small business, large corporation, or labor union--had a First Amendment right to engage in political speech.

Ultimately, this study shows that the liberals who have spent the past few years demonizing the decision and calling for constitutional amendments to curtail political speech have missed the point and missed the boat. I have no doubt that they’ll seize on this study as a reason to demand more regulation of speech. Certainly, as liberal senators like Chuck Schumer, Patrick Leahy, and Dick Durban plod forward with their short-sighted attempt to amend the Constitution, they will inevitably cite this study as evidence of the need to restrict the First Amendment.

I say to those liberals hell-bent on restricting speech: rather than trying to silence voices and viewpoints you disagree with, join the debate.


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