David Bossie, president and CEO of Citizens United, delivered an address on the importance of free speech in politics at the Yale Political Union Tuesday evening, evoking distinctly different reactions from the parties on the left and the right.
In his talk on the topic “Citizens United is Good for Democracy,” Bossie discussed his belief that ensuring First Amendment rights will lead to a better democratic system. Bossie is well known for winning a 2008 Supreme Court case that overturned the McCain-Feingold Act, which prohibited corporations and non-profits from contributing to certain campaign ads. He addressed the case in his speech, saying that it extended participation in the political process to a group that had previously been underrepresented.
“The McCain-Feingold Act was used to freeze people out of the political process,” he said. “We need more speech, not enforced silence.”
Bossie said that in 2007, Citizens United produced a movie critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ’73, but the Federal Election Commission prevented the organization from airing the movie under a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act. Bossie said he then took the FEC to court, claiming that their actions violated his group’s First Amendment rights. After several months of court hearings, the Supreme Court struck down some provisions of the McCain-Feingold act, and the FEC subsequently allowed Citizens United to air the movie — a decision that Bossie called “a David and Goliath story.”
Bossie said he has found that liberal-leaning corporations are often exempt from funding regulations — such as Sony and Lionsgate, which Bossie said funded director Michael Moore’s film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a film that is “political and paid for by corporations.” In addition, Bossie criticized the “left in Hollywood” and the “liberal-leaning press” for promoting Democratic causes without regulation.
Bossie’s speech met considerable opposition from audience members. Dominick Lawton ’13, former speaker of the YPU, said he thinks Bossie should have addressed the problem of disproportionate representation by drawing a distinction between those with financial power and those without it.
“I think Bossie was dishonest by contrasting the voice of the left with that of the right, instead of those with massive control versus those with little control,” he said. “How much you spend is directly proportional to how much you are heard.”
In response to negative reaction to his speech, Bossie said that despite potential differences in campaign spending, Americans can make “intelligent” decisions come election time. He added that the Citizens United decision “helped level the playing field.”
Julie Aust ’14, a YPU member who helps coordinate speakers, said the group invited Bossie because of the Citizens United court decision’s influence on campaign spending this election year.
“Citizens United was the biggest case in decades and influenced Americans’ way of looking at politics”, she said. “It was an exciting idea to have the discussion before the election”.
Roughly 90 students attended the talk, which took place in Linsly-Chittenden Hall.