Citizens United Introduction

The Supreme Court’s ruling in  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) has been credited with damaging our democracy due to its treatment of corporations as “persons” with the same rights, including free speech, of individuals. The case originally addressed “electioneering communications,” defined by the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA or McCain-Feingold) as broadcast ads that clearly identify a federal candidate, are targeted to the candidate’s electorate and are broadcast within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The non-profit group Citizens United had planned to offer (through video on demand) a political documentary, Hillary: The Movie (with similar motives to the political documentary about Obama, 2016), less than 30 days before the 2008 primaries. Because of BCRA, the federal government stopped them, and the case went to court.

In 2009, the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Citizens United group wanted a decision on a narrow question: did the BCRA’s rules on electioneering communications apply to their situation? However, as mentioned in a previous post, the conservative justices instructed the parties to re-argue the case on the much more expansive question suggested by Justice Kennedy, regarding the constitutionality of BCRA’s provisions for corporations and unions. Dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens commented that the justices in the majority “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

In a 5-4 decision along partisan lines, the Court struck down portions of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act by ruling that they violated the First Amendment.  Specifically, the Court ruled that the First Amendment protected unrestricted independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.  However, the case did not affect the federal ban on direct contributions from corporate or union treasury funds to political candidates and parties.  This still remains illegal in races for federal office.

The next few blog posts will outline the questions considered by the Court and the majority and minority opinions for each.


8 responses to “Citizens United Introduction

  1. Nice intro on what Citizens United actually did to change the electoral landscape. I think a lot of people don’t understand that corporations still can’t contribute directly to candidates, nor are they supposed to be coordinating (but they do of course).

    We have our own take on how to fix the broken system, and it does not require a constitutional amendment. Check it out if you have the time.

    There is also a shorter video here:

  2. Someone needs to document in a list the so many attacks on the US democracy in the past recent years. Every day seems to contain a new assault on good sense, political power of the vote, economic insult, and power of the people. Keeping inventory as carefully as I can. Thanks for your contribution to freedom of the press.

  3. I read the reference mentioned by meandemocracy. It suggests that members of Congress pledge to return most of their salary back to the government and that this will reduce the influence of corporations. I don’t think it even deserves discussion.

  4. Good post covering part of the Citizens United story. I support a constitutional amendment saying money is not speech and corporations do not have constitutionally protected rights (e.g., freedom of speech.) Such an amendment would remove the basis for the Citizens United decision as well as other decisions that limited the effect of campaign finance laws. The primary effect would be that Congress and state legislatures could regulate corporate speech and money in campaigns. At this point, I don’t think there is all that much direct corporate (i.e., for-profit corporations like Nike, Walmart, Wells-Fargo) money going into campaigns. Currently, the big money comes from very rich individuals who are protected by the “money is speech” argument. We need to address both issues.

  5. Paul: Why no discussion? We’d be happy to debate you on the prospects for a constitutional amendment in the next two congressional election cycles (WON’T HAPPEN) or the next four congressional election cycles (unlikely to happen)… Even the smart people in favor of the amendment like Lawrence Lessig will admit that it’s a LONGTERM project. We too are in favor of an amendment, but in the meantime we have to limit money’s corrosive influence.

    You certainly distilled our idea to such a tiny fragment of a thought that that it loses its meaning. Yes, we favor voluntary reduction of Congressional income in the hope of reducing corporate influence. But that’s a shortcut, you leave out all the good stuff in between. That’d be like us saying that you favor a constitutional amendment… without saying more. We hope people will actually read the article and the other content on our site.

    And we are ready to debate any time you are.

  6. Pingback: ALERT => Corrupt NWO GOPs In Montana Attempting To Institute The Mechanism Of Fascism: Increase Corporate Contribution Levels By 484% « Political Vel Craft

  7. Pingback: ALERT => Corrupt NWO GOPs In Montana Attempting To Institute The Mechanism Of Fascism: Increase Corporate Contribution Levels By 484% | Political Vel Craft

  8. Pingback: Highlights of Campaign Finance Part 3 | citizens for truth

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