Here's a shock: Retired Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse donated to the Obama campaign. Greenhouse revealed the donation in a nytimes.com column expressing her ambivalence about McCain-Feingold's stringent restrictions on campaign speech.
In "Hurry Up and Wait," an Opinionator piece on campaign finance reform posted December 17 at nytimes.com, Greenhouse admitted donating to the Obama presidential campaign in 2008.
Receiving such requests was a new experience for me after my years at The Times, which doesn't permit reporters to make political contributions. After I left the paper in mid-2008, I made a few contributions: to a respected state judge caught in a nasty retention election, to a Congressional candidate whose campaign was managed by the daughter of a high school friend, to the Obama campaign.
That comes as no surprise to anyone who read her reporting, in which she lavished love on liberal justices, or her June 2006 speech at Harvard lamenting "the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."
Greenhouse discussed the Supreme Court delaying until next year its decision on the campaign finance case regarding "Hillary: The Movie" by the conservative group Citizens United. One clue: When a journalist talking campaign finance "reform" says they take the First Amendment seriously (shouldn't that be a no-brainer?) watch out. There's always a qualifier, like Greenhouse's concerns about "seeing democracy auctioned off to the highest bidder," a strong echo of left-wing rhetoric.
I realize that uncertainty is an undesirable trait in an opinion columnist, but I have to confess to long-standing agnosticism on the campaign finance issue. I take the First Amendment arguments seriously, and I think that the provision of McCain-Feingold at issue in the original Citizens United case - banning corporate-paid "electioneering communications" from the airwaves during the weeks before an election - goes too far toward suppressing legitimate expression. (Citizens United presented the narrow, fact-specific question of whether a film titled "Hillary: The Movie," a feature-length political attack on Hillary Rodham Clinton intended for video-on-demand cable television, was the sort of "electioneering communication" to which the statute applied.)
But I also believe that the First Amendment doesn't require resigning ourselves to seeing democracy auctioned off to the highest bidder. It is, in other words, an exquisitely tough issue, made no simpler by decades of inconsistent Supreme Court decisions that have produced legal doctrine so muddled as to be "beyond incoherence," in the words of Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.