CNN's Costello Bewails 'Big Advantage' Court Gave 'Wealthy' in Campaign Finance Ruling

On Wednesday's CNN Newsroom, Carol Costello decried the Supreme Court's latest decision underlining that political donations are a form of free speech: "You know, these rulings continue to surprise me – only because so many Americans are concerned about the money factor...They think it's a real problem, and these kinds of rulings seem to only exacerbate those problems."

Costello brought on liberal CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin for his take on the ruling, and asked, "Doesn't that give wealthy donors a big advantage?" Toobin twice emphasize the left-of-center opposition to this decision and the previous Citizen United decision in 2010: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

JEFFREY TOOBIN: ...The heart of all these decisions, like Citizens United; the McCutcheon case – which is what the name of this case is – is that giving money to a political campaign is an act of speech, which the government can regulate in only very limited circumstances. Now obviously, a lot of people disagree....

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote today's opinion...said a lot of people are unhappy about all the money in campaigns....Now, the four dissenting justices, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, said, in effect, that's all a bunch of nonsense; that speech is not money; that money is not speech; that this should be regulated. But they only have four votes, not five.

The anchor broke the news about the Court's decision in the McCutcheon case and wasted little time before hyping how "this decision may have an immediate impact on November's congressional midterm elections. It's also a blow to federal election laws – one more blow." She then turned to Toobin and asked him to explain the decision. When the analyst noted, in part, that "there are limits on how much you can give to one campaign, but you can give to as many campaigns as you like," Costello followed up with her "big advantage" question.

Toobin laughed in reply, and added, "That's exactly right, and that's why wealthy donors were behind this case. But what the Supreme Court has said is that the First Amendment protects the right to give campaign contributions as a form of speech." He continued with his first reference to the left's opposition to the Court's rulings on this issue.

Costello then gave her reference to how Americans are supposedly "concerned about the money factor...They think it's a real problem, and these kinds of rulings seem to only exacerbate those problems." The CNN legal analyst paraphrased from Chief Justice Roberts' ruling, as well as Justice Breyer's dissent, who, in Toobin's words, "said, in effect, that's all a bunch of nonsense; that speech is not money; that money is not speech; that this should be regulated."

The CNN anchor gave her last word on the issue by mouthing one of the left's talking points on Citizens United: "So now, we know corporations are people, and money is people, too." Later in the hour, Costello teased another segment on the ruling with correspondent Dana Bash by hyping the "breaking news...[that's] causing a lot of consternation already." After Bash's report, the anchor remarked, "I'm just getting over that money has freedom of speech. So, as they've always said, money talks, and it really does."

The full transcript of the Costeloo/Toobin segment from Wednesday's CNN Newsroom:


CAROL COSTELLO: I have to get to this breaking news that's coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court. In a five-to-four ruling, the court struck down current limits on the total amount individual donors can make to political campaigns. Now, this decision may have an immediate impact on November's congressional midterm elections. It's also – it's also a blow to federal election laws – one more blow.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is here to explain. Hi, Jeff.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Hi.

[CNN Graphic: "Supreme Ct. Strikes Down Individual Political Donor Limits"]

COSTELLO: So, explain this ruling and – and why the Supreme Court justices decided this way.

TOOBIN: Well, this is part of a series of decisions that the Supreme Court has engaged in about the First Amendment right to give money to political campaigns. The most famous of these decisions, in 2010, was the Citizens United case. This decision today expands the Citizens United decision. It says that individuals have a First Amendment right to give, as many different political campaigns as they want, the maximum amount of money. There used to be, sort of, an overall limit of how much money you could give to individual – to individual campaigns. Now, there are limits on how much you can give to one campaign, but you can give to as many campaigns as you like.

COSTELLO: So – so doesn't that give wealthy donors a big advantage?

TOOBIN: (laughs) Yes, yes. That's exactly right-

COSTELLO: Uh-huh-

TOOBIN: And that's why wealthy donors were behind this case. But what the Supreme Court has said is that the First Amendment protects the right to give campaign contributions as a form of speech. The heart of all these decisions, like Citizens United; the McCutcheon case – which is what the name of this case is – is that giving money to a political campaign is an act of speech, which the government can regulate in only very limited circumstances

Now obviously, a lot of people disagree. Money, they say, is not speech. Money is a lot different; money is money. But the Supreme Court – at least five justices; there was – this was a five-to-four decision – saying that money is speech; and thus, can't be regulated, at least very much.

COSTELLO: You know, these rulings continue to surprise me – only because so many Americans are concerned about the money factor – who gets elected to public office. They think it's a real problem, and these kinds of rulings seem to only exacerbate those problems.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote today's opinion – you could see, particularly at the beginning of the opinion – addressed those concerns. He said – you know, a lot of people are unhappy about all the money in campaigns. But, he said, we have a First Amendment, and the First Amendment trumps any other kind of law, and we – we give freedom of speech to people who – who engage in hateful speech, like the Westboro Baptist Church. And so, we have to give freedom of speech to people who want to give to political campaigns.

Now, the four dissenting justices, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, said, in effect, that's all a bunch of nonsense; that speech is not money; that money is not speech; that this should be regulated. But they only have four votes, not five.

COSTELLO: So now, we know corporations are people, and money is people, too.

TOOBIN: And money is speech – absolutely. No, that's the heart of this opinion. Corporations are people, with Citizens United. But the heart of today's opinion is that giving money to a candidate is like speech. And a lot of people disagree with it, but that's the law of the land.

COSTELLO: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center