Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson launched a broad critique today of Congress' attempts to regulate the role of money in political campaigns, two months before Olson is scheduled to argue what is shaping up as a major campaign finance case in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Olson, speaking to a luncheon of the D.C. chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, said that the federal government has gone too far with laws designed to reduce the influence of corporations and unions.
“The most important freedom we have, to speak about our government and its leaders, is being restricted — indeed, strangled — by a vast government regulatory bureaucracy created by federal campaign finance laws,” Olson said. “The freedom to run for office or to talk about candidates for office is being smothered with requirements to hire armies of lawyers and accountants.”
Olson, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, represents Citizens United, a conservative non-profit group that was thwarted in its attempt to air a documentary called “Hillary: The Movie.” The documentary presented the then-candidate for president Hillary Clinton in a negative light. Citizens United sued, and the Supreme Court heard arguments in March in the case, Citizens United v. FEC.
In an unusual move last month, the justices scheduled (pdf) a second round of oral argument for Sept. 9 and asked for briefs on whether the Court should overrule two significant precedents that restrict the use of money from corporations and unions. Anticipation over the future of campaign finance laws has been growing ever since.
Olson showed no sign in his comments today that he intends to shy away from the high stakes.
“Why is it easier,” he asked, “to dance naked, burn a flag, or wear a shirt saying ‘Fuck the Draft’ in a courthouse — these are all Supreme Court decisions — than it is to advocate the election or defeat of a president? That cannot be right.” David Bossie, president of Citizens United, was in the audience at the Capital Hilton to hear Olson’s remarks.
One of the precedents that the Court asked for new briefs on, McConnell v. FEC, upheld significant portions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Olson, then arguing as solicitor general on behalf of the federal government, pushed for upholding the act but has since switched to arguing the other side. Quipped Douglas Fox, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who introduced Olson today: “Does the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold depend solely on which side Ted Olson argues on?”