Floyd Abrams on Super PACs and the Legacy of Citizens United

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich reaches to shake hands during a campaign stop at the Cathedral of Praise on January 15, 2012 in Charleston, South Carolina. Newt Gingrich reaches to shake hands during a campaign stop in Charleston, South Carolina. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Nearly two years ago, a bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled that the American government could not ban political spending by corporations and labor unions during electoral campaigns. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overruled important precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations and dramatically altered the way campaigns are conducted. 

One major outcome of the decision is the prevalence of Super PACs. Floyd Abrams is a First Amendment lawyer who represented Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. He joins the program to discuss the legacy of the ruling and the impact of Super PACs on this primary season.


Floyd Abrams

Produced by:

Marc Kilstein

Comments [3]


John, your interview with Floyd Abrams was so fast and breezy, you never really got past the elementary topic of supposedly false campaign advertising.

The Citizens United case wasn't really about false campaign claims, which predate all of modern campaign finance law. Citizens United doesn't have anything to do with false claims which, as Abrams noted, have been going on as long as we've been a nation. Rather, Citizens United addressed the legal distinctions between outside groups' spending on electioneering, away from the narrow constraints of campaign donations to candidates. Citizens United was about the government choosing to shut down some groups' (corporations and unions, as well as other associations) as well as some individuals' speech. You never got there.

So once again, when the chance to have a serious discussion of Citizens United v. FEC comes up, The Takeaway punts. It was a nice idea to speak with Floyd Abrams, who is the preeminent First Amendment litigator of the past 40 years. But because of your own agenda -- wishing to score points against Republicans using old historical examples from past campaigns -- you never allowed Abrams to speak to why Citizens United was a good and a reasonable decision.

You guys really need to figure out how to run this program because right now, you are in the position of combining the inaccurate superficiality of commercial radio, with the determined left wing bias of public radio. The worst of both worlds.

Jan. 18 2012 09:13 AM
Paul from Westport, MA

We all know of communists, fascists, Marxists, capitalists... Now we are in the age of the Corporatists (Romney, for one). Corporations live hundreds of years (unlike people) and amass power over those hundreds of years, working their way into the fabric of our government and our lives (Citi is 200 years old). Our nations corporations have now emerged from their infancy. They are ready to turn the screws, and when they do, they will turn them TIGHT. Justice Holms foresaw this and spoke out against the personhood of corporations 100 years ago, when they were still in their infancy.

Jan. 18 2012 08:41 AM
Jonathan Timm

It was disappointing of you to interview Abrams -- who is in large part responsible for Citizens United's win -- without balancing his viewpoint with an opposing one, or giving him some tougher questions, at the least. There's a vast amount of legal scholars and Americans who strongly oppose the case's effect on our politics (Lawrence Lessig, the entire Occupy Wall Street movement, etc). And on the topic of being "factual," Abrams said that "the government doesn't go to court over Wikileaks," which is untrue. The Obama administration has relentlessly attacked Wikileaks, their alleged source, Bradley Manning, and other whistle blowers. (http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=22197 one link of many)

Jan. 18 2012 08:41 AM

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