WSJ's Henniger makes important error about Citizens United
[UPDATE: Dan Henninger e-mailed me to say that the WSJ "will run a correction tomorrow and online."]
In an otherwise excellent article today, the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henniger (one of my favorite political writers), made what I consider to be an important error. Below is the e-mail I sent Mr. Henniger about it:
Dear Mr. Henniger,
As I was reading your otherwise excellent note this morning about "The Rage Against Citizens United", it seemed to me that you made an important factual error -- one that plays right into the hands of enemies of free speech and opponents of the Citizens United decision.
Namely, at the end of the third paragraph, you say that the case "permitted unlimited campaign contributions by corporations and unions."
This is not only incorrect, but it feeds into the erroneous myth that the left is trying to build up around the case. You've made the statement erroneously, but the left says the same thing as an intentional lie.
The Buckley v Valeo case (1976) upheld limits on direct corporate contributions to campaigns, and that law remains in place following Citizens United. Instead, Citizens United was a challenge to BCRA (aka McCain-Feingold) which itself was using as its foundation a more recent case, Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), which restricted independent corporate expenditures. Citizens United overturned Austin as well as overturning important parts of McConnell v FEC (2003), the first major challenge to McCain-Feingold (and a case which, in my view, was a travesty of justice allowed, sadly, by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.)
The difference between allowing "unlimited campaign contributions" and allowing unlimited non-coordinated independent expenditures on political messaging is enormous, and the two should not be confused, at least not by people who agree with and support political freedom of speech. Buckley ruled that the former is too close to bribery to be allowed, and that law has not changed in decades, and did not with Citizens United. It's only independent political spending which is now allowed, guaranteeing the right that our Founders thought perhaps the single most important right guaranteed to Americans: free speech, especially free political speech.
Again, I think this particular misunderstanding of the meaning of Citizens United is widespread -- and the left wants it that way. I hope you will correct your error and not give enemies of liberty aid and comfort.
If I'm wrong on this somehow, I apologize for wasting your time. I'm a great admirer of your writing.
If I'm correct, I hope that you agree with me that the error is big enough to warrant a correction, perhaps even use as a hook for an article of its own.
Contributing columnist to Human Events and the American Spectator
p.s. I have posted this note on my own blog as well...
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