Is Dissent 'Legitimate'? Not According to Campaign Finance Laws

Rather than admit they are trying to silence their most vocal critics, politicians say that the reason for new “disclosure” laws is that the public needs to know whether the protesters’ advocacy is actually “astroturf” that is being controlled by “special interests” -- a term politicians use to describe anyone who disagrees with them. Never mind that real people are showing up at meetings and expressing their real views. Apparently, the fact that someone asked them to go there means we shouldn’t listen to them, and the public isn’t smart enough to hear their arguments and judge them on their merits.

In other words, politicians think they need to protect us by permitting “genuine” speech they like and restricting “fake” speech they don’t. Such Orwellian paternalism is not tolerated by the First Amendment. But it is at the core of the politicians’ endless quest to weed out speech they consider to be illegitimate.

Fortunately, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court is about to remind politicians that free speech is a right, not a privilege subject to their mercurial whims. In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will issue a decision in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. The Supreme Court is expected to hold that the government cannot prevent corporations from spending money to express their views about candidates. In doing so, the justices can make clear that the government cannot stifle the speech of any group -- corporate or non-corporate -- simply because it is forsaking “legitimacy” by not toeing the government line.

The good news for the administration? The Supreme Court’s decision should be of interest to all media, so the White House won’t have to tune into Fox News to hear all about it.