Just mentioning the Citizens United case is enough to boil some folks’ blood. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205 (U.S. Jan. 21, 2010) to use its full name, was the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment.
The decision, equating campaign money with speech, opened the floodgates for, as some have put it, turning elections into auctions.
But, although a lot of us know something about the decision, mostly focused on its consequences, not enough of us know enough about the case itself—and some of the truly devious people behind it—and we should know.
But before we can begin connecting the dots, we need to identify the dots.
First Dot: Citizens United
The group is a conservative lobbying and propaganda shop located in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1988 by conservative activist Floyd G. Brown. Its current president, David Bossie, has had the job since 2000.
Citizens United is also part of a web of partners and subsidiary groups, such as, Boycott France and Counter George Soros. It also has a lobbying arm, The American Sovereignty Project.
It describes its mission as being dedicated to restoring the United States government to “citizens’ control” and to “assert American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.”
To fulfill this mission, Citizens United undertakes various educational projects, including television advertising and feature-length documentary movies.
One of these documentaries, “Hillary: The Movie,” was the centerpiece for the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court case.
Bossie is the current president of Citizens United. A conservative political activist, he was hired as a staff member for Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) in 1997, to look into alleged Clinton campaign finance abuses. Bossie was fired in May, 1998, under intense bi-partisan pressure, for publishing edited versions of confidential tapes and transcripts of committee business, in order to portray political opponents in a negative light.
Third Dot: Hillary: The Movie
This is the centerpiece of the suit against the FEC. Describing the movie as awful is understating the facts by several orders of magnitude. It is nothing more than a 90-minute screed claiming that former First Lady Hillary Clinton had questionable morals and ethics. It features a rotation of familiar right-wing talkers like Bay Buchanan, Larry Kudlow, Ann Coulter and Dick Armey, great thinkers one and all, taking turns making snarky remarks about Mrs. Clinton.
So, therein lies the mystery: how did a run-of-the-mill right wing propaganda shop maneuver a true cinematic suppository of a movie into a situation that gets heard before the U.S. Supreme Court?
And the answer, surprisingly, lies right here in Orange County. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Lincoln Club.
For those not familiar with this group, it’s a group of 300 or so rich Orange Countians who formed up after Richard Nixon lost the 1962 Governor’s race to Pat Brown. Seasoned readers may remember the “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” press conference Nixon gave.
Since Nixon’s 1962 defeat the Lincoln Club has raised millions of dollars to put him in the White House; Reagan, Deukmejian, Wilson, and Schwarzenegger in the Governor’s Mansion; Reagan in the White House, and assorted other elected officials in their respective offices.
The Lincoln Club is currently sponsoring and promoting Proposition 32 on the November ballot, the so-called “Paycheck Protection” measure, which basically strips unions of their fund-raising capabilities while leaving large private and corporate donors untouched. The club has sponsored two similar efforts in previous years, Proposition 75 in 2005 and Proposition 226 in 1998.
The Lincoln Club’s public role in the Citizens United case was to help finance the movie. In a C-SPAN interview, CU president David Bossie said the Lincoln Club “passed the hat” and came up with “about $100,000” to help finance the movie; Bossie is vague on the total costs of the movie (“about $1.1 or $1.2 million”), or about what else the Lincoln Club contributed. The Club is listed as one of the Executive Producers on the movie DVD jacket.
Here again, the public statements don’t seem to match the observed facts.
For example: Lead counsel for the plaintiffs on the CU case was Theodore Olson, former Assistant Attorney General to President Ronald Reagan, Solicitor General under President George W. Bush, and in fact represented Bush in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court Case.
Very influential and expensive talent, to say the least.
Other attorneys for CU were Amir Tayrani and Ryan Watson. More about them shortly.
And the common thread here seems to be the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Attorneys Tayrani and Watson work for Gibson, Dunn’s Washington, D.C. office, as does Ted Olson. And Orange County Lincoln Club President Robert Loewen is a partner in Gibson, Dunn’s Orange County office.
And since none of these attorneys or the CU case is listed on the firm’s pro bono award list, it is logical to assume that they were paid for their work. And a fair question is, by whom? And the fair follow-up question is, what did the payee get for the money?
How much and by whom may never be revealed. What the Lincoln Club got for their money is pretty straightforward: they got the chance to buy every government in the United States for them and their friends. The CU case is what UC Irvine law professor Richard Hasen calls a Trojan Horse. In his words, “We’ve seen this before. This lawsuit is a Trojan horse. The plaintiff lawyers here use Bluman (referring to Benjamin Bluman, et al. v. FEC. No. 11-275. Supreme Court of the United States. January 9, 2012), much like the lawyers in Citizens United v. F.E.C. used a sympathetic ideological group opposed to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to free up big corporations like Exxon and Microsoft to spend unlimited sums to influence U.S. elections.”
So, who got what out of the process? Citizens United (the group) got some notoriety and maybe some donations. A few lawyers got some money and some publicity that maybe helps their careers.
The Lincoln Club, though, by opening up campaign contributions to individuals and groups who can give unlimited amounts of anonymous dollars, gets the undying gratitude of billionaires and large corporations, and the ability to buy control of any government in California—or all of them.
And for those of us who are neither billionaires nor large corporations?
It’s a lot like the old Jerry Reed song about who gets the gold mine and who just gets the shaft. And for most of us, the Lincoln Club has worked hard to make sure that not too much of the gold mine is headed our way.