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Hagel Support Shows NYT Still Disturbed About Citizens United Decision Expanding Free Speech

The New York Times continues to be disturbed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, loathed by liberals for expanding the free speech rights of corporations and other groups to participate in campaign advertising, bringing it up in articles even when it doesn't actually apply, explaining that it's part of the general atmosphere.

Reporter Jim Rutenberg's Sunday off-lead story, "Secret Donors Finance Fight Against Hagel," bore that template. His story also fits right with the paper's spirited defense of Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary.

A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States “a weaker country.”

Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Mr. Hagel as “anti-Gay,” “anti-woman” and “anti-Israel” in ads and mailers.

Those groups are joining at least five others that are organizing to stop Mr. Hagel’s confirmation, a goal even they acknowledge appears to be increasingly challenging. But the effort comes with a built-in consolation prize should it fail: depleting some of Mr. Obama’s political capital as he embarks on a new term with fresh momentum.

The media campaign to scuttle Mr. Hagel’s appointment, unmatched in the annals of modern presidential cabinet appointments, reflects the continuing effects of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance restrictions and was a major reason for the record spending by outside groups in the 2012 election. All told, these independent and largely secretly financed groups spent well over $500 million in an attempt to defeat Mr. Obama and the Democrats, a failure that seemed all the greater given the huge amounts spent.

Rutenberg then admitted that, um:

Groups like his would have been able to operate freely against Mr. Hagel even before Citizens United. But the ruling has served to erase what had been traditional fears among donors that their involvement in the fight of the day would lead to legal trouble or, for those who prefer to stay anonymous, unwanted public exposure. That confidence, in turn, has helped spur the increase in the number of political organizations that pop up to engage in the big political entanglement of the moment.

....

Whatever its chances of success, the blitz against Mr. Hagel is of a sort that has generally been reserved for elections and some Supreme Court nominations. The last major cabinet skirmish, over President George W. Bush’s nomination of John R. Bolton as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, had no comparable outside media blitz. Though goaded along by a phone campaign organized by the political action arm of the liberal group MoveOn, Democrats succeeded in blocking him in the Senate, forcing Mr. Bush to appoint him during a congressional recess.

That was before the Citizens United decision.