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Citizens United Court Case Was A Fight Against Censorship, Bossie Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The simple truth is the 2016 election has hardly begun. We still face primaries in huge states, potentially chaotic conventions, a general election and, beneath it all, less-noticed but vitally important contests for the House and Senate. In all of these races money can make a difference, and more money is available than ever. One of many reasons is a court case brought by the man we'll meet next, David Bossie with Citizens United. Years ago, his advocacy group produced a documentary criticizing Hillary Clinton. This ran against a campaign finance law, which he challenged in the Supreme Court, winning in 2010. The court revised the rules in ways that made it easier for independent groups to spend millions or billions of dollars attacking or supporting candidates. David Bossie helped to reshape our political world. He came into our studios and defended his case as a fight against censorship.

DAVID BOSSIE: I went to bat for Citizens United productions and Citizens United's ability to do this. But our victory was a good for anyone across the political spectrum, not just conservatives. And of course we didn't go to the Supreme Court to allow corporations to be able to participate in the political process. It's an outcome.

INSKEEP: You see this as freedom of speech. It is also money. You pointed out you weren't necessarily seeking to get corporations further into the process.

BOSSIE: Sure.

INSKEEP: Here we are. They're further into the process. What do you think about that?

BOSSIE: But let's analyze that a little bit. Can you name one major corporation in America that is participating in the political process right now, making a donation to a candidate?

INSKEEP: You mean a corporation making a donation to a candidate?

BOSSIE: Right.

INSKEEP: As you know, that is still illegal.

BOSSIE: Aha, exactly. But people believe corporations can now be involved in politics at any level, and it's just not accurate.

INSKEEP: Well, let's be frank about this. Corporations were involved in politics before...

BOSSIE: Sure.

INSKEEP: ...For generations. And even if they couldn't make contributions as a corporation, the executives would get together. They'd gather contributions. They'd be involved.

BOSSIE: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: They were involved then. They're involved now.

BOSSIE: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: But what is different now it that it's easier for wealthy individuals to steer many, many, many millions of dollars.

BOSSIE: But that's not corporations.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about wealthy individuals. The Center for Responsive Politics came up with a number. 2014 congressional elections - they find that roughly $500 million went from the wealthy into various advocacy groups - not necessarily directly contributing to a candidate, but having a voice in the election. And a large part of that - $120 million - was secret money. You can't even tell where it came from. What do you think of that?

BOSSIE: Well, look, I'm a believer in the transparency. If we want to move away from any opportunity to have secret money in politics, let's create a new system that just makes super PACs obsolete. You don't need to use them. And if by lifting the campaign contribution limits...

INSKEEP: Oh, you'd rather a billionaire be able to give $10 million to a candidate.

BOSSIE: But then, if David Bossie or any other person in America wants to make a gift to a candidate and the candidate wants to accept it, then it is fully disclosed. And that makes super PACs obsolete.

INSKEEP: A lot of people, though, think that big money corrupts politicians. If you're a politician, if you're a senator, you're a member of Congress, you have to personally be calling people and asking them for money. Today, you also will need some wealthy friend to set up a super PAC to gather even more contributions from...

BOSSIE: But everything you just said...

INSKEEP: ...Other people who support you. And is that not going to bend your view of the world in a certain way, no matter how well-intentioned you might be?

BOSSIE: OK. And for over 200 years, except for the super PAC aspect, every element of what you just said has been going on, and our democracy is strong. It's only hyper-partisan politicians who use the specter of dark money and politics and the corruption that it brings. It's one of the reasons that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in this little bit of a kerfuffle right now because Bernie Sanders attacks her for her super PAC.

INSKEEP: You know, another complaint that's made about campaign finance is that, if you're a wealthy individual, you have a much larger voice in the government than other people. Some people might argue it's not a bad thing. You could go back to some founding fathers.

BOSSIE: Sure.

INSKEEP: You might read some of Alexander Hamilton and say that Hamilton thought the wealthy should be tied to the interests of the government, that that was good for the stability of the government. Are you willing to go there and say it is just fine if this is primarily an enterprise of wealthy people, and ordinary people can be heard once in a while at a town hall meeting?

BOSSIE: No, no, no, no. Look, I'm not (laughter) - I'm not somebody - I don't come from money. I lived in a firehouse for 10 years...

INSKEEP: You were a fireman.

BOSSIE: ...You know, in Montgomery County, Md., for a long time. And so I don't buy into that. I'm sorry. I'm a guy who comes from a blue-collar background. In my organization, by the way, I don't have big-money contributors. I spent hard-earned, meaning donor - $25, $50 donations to be able to get the United States Supreme Court to fight for my First Amendment rights. That's what I did. We didn't have, you know, the big-donor class today that you read about every day - didn't exist. You heard a little bit about the Soroses, but you didn't hear about the Koch brothers until after that.

INSKEEP: OK, so if you're a blue-collar guy, does it bother you just a little bit that the Koch brothers can gather a group of individuals together and they can raise $800 or $900 million or whatever it is?

BOSSIE: Yeah, you know, it doesn't bother me other than jealousy, wishing that they would look upon the work that we did and decide, you know what? We should support Citizens United because they don't.

INSKEEP: You wish they'd contribute to you?

BOSSIE: And they don't.

INSKEEP: One final thing. You have spoken favorably of Donald Trump, who has said that he believes a lot of other politicians are bought and paid for and further says that, as a billionaire, as he says he is, that he bought and paid for a lot of them. Is he right?

BOSSIE: No. I think that Donald Trump has hit a nerve, you know, on telling people - Republican primary voters - that I'm not bought and paid for; I am self-funding my campaign. And I think that that's serving him well. But I don't know that he has - other than wanting it to be true, you know, I don't think that there are candidates out there that are bought and paid for by anyone.

INSKEEP: David Bossie, I've enjoyed this conversation. Thanks very much.

BOSSIE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.