Still, the amount citizen groups spent in 2010 pales next to these enormous sums: $1.35 billion spent by the two major political parties and an additional $1.8 billion by candidates for Congress. While citizens making independent expenditures increased their election spending to nearly $300 million in 2010, that remains less than one-tenth of the more than $3 billion spent by political parties and their candidates.
So why all the hysteria from incumbents? Perhaps because independent spending by citizens has shifted away from Democratic candidates. In 2006, liberal interest groups tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics outspent conservative interest groups by a 2-to-1 margin. By 2010, the trend had reversed, and conservative groups were outspending the liberal groups 2 to 1.
We suspect that what most upsets incumbent politicians about Citizens United is not the fact that conservative groups temporarily have gained the upper hand in independent spending. (Does anyone really think labor unions will not try to even the score in 2012?) Instead, what most bothers the political class is that the speech that surged in 2010 was independent. Politicians could not control the message, so they vilified such speech as "unaccountable." Indeed, the Democratic majority was so unnerved that it cobbled together legislation to make such independent speech as burdensome as possible, complete with a misleading mom-and-apple-pie title: the Disclose Act. But this effort to stifle debate unraveled when it was disclosed that the bill included exceptions favoring powerful interest groups.
As the Supreme Court has ruled, Congress should get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas and placing its thumb on the scale of federal elections. In Citizens United, the court reminded us that when our government seeks "to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought." The government argued in Citizens United that it could ban books advocating the election of a candidate if they were published by a corporation or labor union. Today, thanks to Citizens United, we may celebrate that the First Amendment confirms what our forefathers fought for: "the freedom to think for ourselves."
David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United. Theodore B. Olson was lead counsel for Citizens United in its lawsuit against the FEC.