Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne has been complaining about Citizens United v. FEC since before Citizens United was decided. In his latest attack on that ruling, Dionne argues that the decision doesn’t work “if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.” As famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams notes in a response, much of Dionne’s critique is based on false factual premises.
There is, however, another, more fundamental problem with Dionne’s critique. Like so many critics of Citizens United, Dionne largely ignores the intermediate step between political spending and electoral results: voting.
Citizens United freed corporations and unions to spend money on political speech. A later ruling, SpeechNow.org v. FEC—litigated by the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics—freed individuals and groups to form Super PACs to do the same thing. But neither ruling freed anyone to buy votes. The most corporations, unions, or Super PACs can do is attempt to persuade American voters.
Dionne apparently believes that voters should be spared from hearing Super PACs’ speech. But that sort of paternalism is precisely what the First Amendment forbids. As the Court noted in Citizens United, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”