New Poll: First Amendment Does Have Some Support

By March 6, 2010Briefly Legal

From the Center for Competitive Politics, a news release, “Poll on Citizens United shows support for free political speech“:

A poll released today by the Center for Competitive Politics shows that Americans generally support First Amendment rights in politics for corporations, unions and nonprofit advocacy groups.

A majority of respondents supported the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission when asked about the facts of the case and its result: “that incorporated entities—businesses, unions and nonprofit advocacy groups—have a First Amendment right to spend money from their general treasuries to fund independent advertisements urging people to vote for or against candidates for public office.”

“Citizens hold complex views on money in politics. They are wary of ‘special interests’ as well as ‘corporate’ spending, and some are surprisingly willing to censor the press,” said CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith. “At the same time, Americans understand that campaign finance restrictions have failed to reduce the influence of ‘special interests’ and don’t support government efforts to silence the political views of groups, including unions and corporations.”

“Americans also strongly oppose regulations that would restrict the distribution of political books, movies and other publications,” Smith said.

The Washington Post recently touted the results of several poll questions it posed to claim the public overwhelmingly opposed the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and supported limits on corporate contributions. Here were the two questions:

35. Changing topics, do you support or oppose the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that says corporations and unions can spend as much money as they want to help political candidates win elections? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

36. Would you support or oppose an effort by Congress to reinstate limits on corporate and union spending on election campaigns? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

In knocking the Post for bias and unrevealed self-interest in its coverage of the Washington Post/ABC News poll, we commented, “First, we doubt many in the public are aware of the Citizens United ruling, so a polling story that emphasizes the strong bipartisan sentiment’ for limits oversells the case.” And what do you know? The poll conducted for the Center for Competitive Politics by the Iowa firm, Victory Enterprises, starts out with a question that reveals 60 percent of those questioned were unfamiliar with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Center doesn’t pretend to be a disinterested party: It supports the Citizens United decision and is critical of campaign finance reform that restricts First Amendment speech. Nevertheless, it did a much better job of posing balanced, specific and accurate questions that elicited informative responses. For example:

Q3. Do you believe that the government should have been able to prevent Citizens United, an
incorporated nonprofit advocacy group, from making its movie available through video-on demand technology?
Yes 114 19.0%
No 307 51.2%
Not Sure/Undecided 145 24.2%
Refused 34 5.7%

Sixty-three percent of those who responded also said they believed the governor should NOT  have the power to limit how much some people speak about politics in order to enhance the voices of others. Sadly, 16.5 percent supported such government power.

The group’s chairman, former FEC Chairman Brad Smith, is scheduled to testify next Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing,  “We the People? Corporate Spending in American Elections after Citizens United.”

UPDATE (3:33 p.m.): Where’s the media coverage of this survey? There’s a Heritage Foundation blog post, but where, oh where, are the news stories?

UPDATE (3:45 p.m.): Smith had an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal after the Supreme Court’s decision, “Newsflash: First Amendment Upheld,” writing, “[The] Court struck down a blanket government prohibition on corporate political speech … a wonderful decision that restores political speech to the primacy it was intended to have under the First Amendment.”

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