Citizens United has been in Colorado news a lot lately. The group, that is, not the Supreme Court case of the same name. On Monday, a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Citizens United should be considered part of the media for purposes of campaign finance law, and therefore, the group need not disclose funding for its film "Rocky Mountain Heist," a thirty-minute attack ad dressed up as a documentary. The group, however, can still be required to disclose spending on ads about the movie that mention candidates right before the election - an important point considering that Citizens United's "film trailers" run as 30-second commercials reach more voters than their longer pieces ever will.
Why is this important? Because from the perspective of the people who run Citizens United and their secret funders, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision wasn't a complete victory. Sure, the court opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate money in politics, but in another portion of the decision, the court held 8-1 that Citizens United could be required to disclose contributions and spending on TV commercials for its "documentary" about Hillary Clinton made for the 2008 election cycle. And it is very important for the people behind Citizens United that the source of their funding remain a secret.
One key to the court's ruling was its belief that everyone knows who Citizens United is. Lawyers for the state argued that Colorado's law exempting some press activities (such as editorial endorsements) from campaign finance disclosure requirements is that readers are familiar enough with an outlet like the Denver Post to be able to evaluate their editorial endorsements. Rejecting that argument, the Court majority held that due to its "history of producing films," Citizens United "can just as easily be evaluated by the electorate" as any newspaper.
Is that true? Do voters really know that Citizens United is an organization and not just the name of a Supreme Court case? Are Colorado citizens really familiar with Citizens United because of films like "Fast Terry" (about a candidate for Governor of Virginia), or "ACLU: At War With America"? Do they know the shady history of Citizens United's founders detailed in a recent Slate article?
I'm pretty sure the two conservative federal judges who authored the majority opinion are wrong about how well Colorado voters know Citizens United. That's why I encourage everyone to watch Common Cause and ProgressNow's spoof video of a typical Citizens United attack ad and see who these people are.
Remember, even though corporations may be considered people under the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, they still can't vote. And on Election Day, a billionaire's vote counts just as much as anyone else's. That's why corporations and billionaires are spending so much to influence this fall's election. If this election is important to them, it should be important to all Coloradans. In the era of unlimited election spending, the individual right to vote is perhaps the last voice ordinary citizens still have.