News Release — Friends of Deb Bucknam
July 11, 2016
Contact: Deb Bucknam
Phone: (802) 535-7191
“Donovan seeks to limit free speech by disparaging “corporations”. But Citizens United is a non-profit social welfare organization under the IRS Code, like many Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, volunteer fire departments, local NAACP units, even ski clubs and swim teams. Are we going to limit the speech of these groups? Do we want to limit the speech of VPIRG, the Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation or Planned Parenthood? How does Donovan propose to choose whose speech to limit?”
Walden, VT – Over a half a century ago Americans of all political persuasions were in the forefront of defending and expanding First Amendment protections for all citizens. In Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement overturned a campus ban on political speech. In the courts, lawyers were successful in persuading judges to strike down numerous statutes for violating the First Amendment, including prohibitions against flag burning and wearing black arm bands, and laws which punished people, like members of the Communist Party, who held dissenting views.
Now Vermont Attorney General candidate TJ Donovan wants to turn back the clock and limit our free speech rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution. In 2012, Donovan called for an “overturning” of Citizens United v. FEC , a Supreme Court decision involving a group who dared to broadcast an anti Hillary Clinton video 30 days before an election. The group was prohibited from doing so by federal law, but the Supreme Court struck down the statute as violating the First Amendment Right to free speech.
Because the Citizens United decision was based on the First Amendment, the only way to “overturn” the decision, as Attorney Donovan knows, is to amend our First Amendment free speech rights.
Let’s be clear what Citizens United is not: it is not about the culture in federal and state capitols where powerful lobbyists have special access to our elected officials, breeding a culture of cronyism and corruption. It is not about big donors contributing to candidates in return for influence the rest of us don’t have. It is true that the people are being shut out of the system by the powerful and well connected, and we must reform the system to return our government to the people and not the special interests. But overturning Citizens United and limiting our First Amendment rights will only ensure the powerful and well connected will have even greater influence in Montpelier and Washington, because outsiders would have limits on what issues information they can communicate to the public, while the well-connected will continue to have unlimited access to the powerful.
No, Citizens United instead was about banning speech. Donovan says the reason he proposed overturning Citizens United and limiting the First Amendment right to free speech is that “Corporations are flooding the airwaves with political advertisements, drowning out the voices of everyday people.” Translation: people cannot understand or discern political positions because of the “flood” of political advertisements. Really? What happened to the concept of the “marketplace of ideas” promoted by our Founders?
Vermonters seem to be able to discern what products and services to purchase from the flood of commercial advertisements. Surely we can discern what candidates and policies to support from the flood of political advertisements. The underlying assumption behind opposition to the Citizens United decision is that people must be protected, like children, from too much political information.
Donovan seeks to limit free speech by disparaging “corporations”. But Citizens United is a non-profit social welfare organization under the IRS Code, like many Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, volunteer fire departments, local NAACP units, even ski clubs and swim teams. Are we going to limit the speech of these groups? Do we want to limit the speech of VPIRG, the Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation or Planned Parenthood? How does Donovan propose to choose whose speech to limit?
To be sure, political ads can often be repetitive and irritating, and even misleading just like those ads for the latest cure for some disease or the latest gadget we must have. But the alternative is far worse: government imposed blackouts—and a diminishment of one of our most precious constitutional rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union opposes any modification of the First Amendment. It states:
“Any rule that requires the government to determine what political speech is legitimate and how much political speech is appropriate is difficult to reconcile with the First Amendment. Our system of free expression is built on the premise that the people get to decide what speech they want to hear; it is not the role of the government to make that decision for them.”
As your Attorney General, I will side with the ACLU and vigorously protect everyone’s First Amendment rights to speak freely, and oppose any attempts by those who, like my opponent, seek to limit the free speech clause in our Bill of Rights.