Lee Goodman just completed his first year on the Federal Election Commission where he is also three-quarters through a yearlong term as Chairman. While he wasnt on the Commission when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United, he did spearhead the rulemaking that formalized how newly freed corporate speech will be regulated. This involved finding a way to break a five year deadlock. The rules, recently approved by a 4-2 vote, make clear that corporations will not be subject to any new onerous disclosure requirements. Instead, as the Supreme Court intended, political speech is freer, which is a very good thing.
Last week, I interviewed Chairman Goodman by telephone. He spoke passionately about the benefits to democracy from more and freer political speech. He believes strongly that Americans are quite capable of listening to a wide variety of viewpoints and then making an informed choice when they vote. He made his argument on this point as follows:
My view is Citizens United righted the ship of speech in America. Americans, even when organized in associations, should have the right to speak as much as they want about government, the issues of the day, and those seeking to be elected to public office. For about 35 years in American history we banned certain speakers and, therefore, certain political views from the debate.
Clearly, Chairman Goodman is in favor of free speech. He understands that the First Amendment was meant to protect political speech of all sorts, without limits on sources or number. He went on to make clear why limiting free speech is a bad idea:
Some people would rather remove certain podiums from the debate than meet the merits of those views in a debate. Government assumed an improper role in controlling debate. Citizens United corrected this, recognizing that all speakers, including those who choose to incorporate their association, should be allowed into the debate. The American people are better off when they hear more viewpoints, not fewer. They have a right to choose whether to listen to a viewpoint, or not to listen.
This is a hopeful view of the American people. Chairman Goodman believes in the inherent abilities of citizens to make wise choices collectively, and also in their inherent right to make poor choices at times and live with the resultant outcomes. Importantly, in stark contrast to the hyperbolic voices on the side of restricting free political speech, Chairman Goodman recognizes that the volume of speech alone does not determine elections:
Evidence from the 2012 election cycle, analyzed by the Sunlight Foundation, showed that in many cases the win/loss rate for big political groups was quite low (sometimes less than 10 percent). This is proof that more speech does not determine the outcome of elections.
Disagreeing further with those in favor of restrictions on political speech, Chairman Goodman also argued against the oft-advanced proposition that speech must be limited in order to avoid corruption:
I dont believe speech corrupts politicians. I dont believe that President Obama has taken positions or changed positions on issues due to the hundreds of millions of dollars in political contributions and speech in the 2012 election. Rather, speech chases political positions more than the other way around. Further, for those who advance the position that speech corrupts politicians, let them name politicians that are examples of such corruption.
Finally, Chairman Goodman spoke in favor of the prospect that Citizens United, helped by the more recent McCutcheon decision, will make elections more competitive. In other words, more money and more viewpoints will make the political landscape more even, not less:
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FEC Chairman Has A Passion For Free Speech