A controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that loosened restrictions on corporate campaign spending and had President Barack Obama fuming in the other Washington has strong ties to this Washington.
In fact, the legal case’s connections get even far more local than that – leading to a home in University Place, where conservative political consultant and columnist Floyd G. Brown hailed the high court’s decision as a “huge, huge victory for free speech.”
Brown, a Washington native, founded the Washington D.C.-based conservative nonprofit, Citizens United, in 1988 and served as its president until 2000.
He also worked with the group in 2007 while it produced, “Hillary: The Movie,” an unflattering portrait of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that was timed to appear during her presidential campaign. The film ultimately led to the legal case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, that prompted Thursday’s 5-4 court ruling.
The decision, which declared limits on so-called independent expenditures by corporations violate First Amendment free-speech rights, essentially means more money can be spent on federal elections, including this year’s midterm congressional elections. It will free corporations and unions to spend from their own treasuries on ads and other advocacy efforts.
“This gives corporations the same rights that individuals have,” Brown told me during a telephone call this afternoon.
“I know there’s a lot of people, especially political insiders, who want to control free speech, because it frightens them,” he said. “They want to protect their turf and incumbency. But I think this is going to enhance politics by getting more people involved.”
In a statement issued today, Obama said the court decision “has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics.”
“It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” said the president, who vowed to work with Congress “to develop a forceful response to this decision.”
Brown, who these days runs several websites, including www.exposeobama.com, flatly disputes the president’s claims.
“It’s not a left thing or a right thing,” he said. “It’s a freedom thing.”
“This empowers both sides,” Brown said. “This empowers labor unions as much as corporations. It probably empowers Democrats more. I’m sure the Teamsters or SEIU will be out there first and spending the most.”
Married to biographer Mary Beth Brown, who wrote the New York Times bestseller, Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan, Brown, 48, was born in Bremerton, graduated from Olympia High School and the University of Washington. The couple has three children.
“I was born, raised and live here,” he said.
A longtime political consultant who has worked for several prominent Republican candidates, Brown probably is best known for the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that sank Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign. Brown also wrote a book called, “Slick Willie: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton,” and created a 1-900 line in 1992 so callers could hear edited excerpts of telephone conversations between Clinton and Arkansas lounge singer Gennifer Flowers.
Brown said the ruling will help not only unbridle distribution of flicks like his group’s on Hillary, but also aid lefty movie-makers, such as Michael Moore, whose films’ distributions he said have also been restricted by federal campaign finance laws.
“This is not the first time a case I’ve been (involved) in went to the Supreme Court,” Brown added.
In 1983, Brown’s arrest for demonstrating in front of the Soviet embassy eventually led the high court ruling in Boos v. Berry, a decision that eliminated restrictions on protesting with signs outside of foreign embassies.
“The Supreme Court was right with that decision, and they’re right with this one,” Brown said. “I’m a very strong believer in free speech.”
(This blog post contains information from reporter Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers)