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What is Citizen's United?

Updated on February 6, 2017

What is Citizens United?

What is Citizens United and Why is it important to know what happened? Citizens United actually has two identities one is an organization and the other is a Supreme Court ruling.

The United States Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court | Source

Citizens United as an Organization

The Citizens United organization describes its mission as being dedicated to restoring the United States government to "citizens' control" and to "assert American values of limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security." That sounds noble enough doesn't it?

Citizens United as a Supreme Court Hearing

The Citizens United organization was the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case which began as a challenge to the "McCain-Feingold" law. The case revolved around a documentary (click here to view the trailer) Hillary: The Movie , which was produced by Citizens United.

Under the McCain-Feingold law, a federal court in Washington D.C. ruled that Citizens United would be barred from advertising its film.

The case was elevated by Citizens United to the Supreme Court and heard on March 24, 2009. During oral arguments, the government argued that under existing precedents, it had the power under the constitution to prohibit the publication of books and movies if they were made or sold by corporations.

As a result of the hearing, the Supreme Court overruled the Citizens United case under the provision of McCain-Feingold. Thus, the ruling prohibited corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidates.

The Re-argument

After that hearing, the Court requested re-argument specifically to address whether deciding the case required the Court to reconsider those earlier decisions. The case was re-argued on September 9. And on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court overruled their earlier ruling on prohibiting corporations paying for political ads independent of candidates.

Thus the Supreme Court undermined a century-old policy barring direct corporate participation in elections, elevating corporate political rights to the same level as those of citizens.

What is the Effect of this Ruling?

This ruling states that corporations have the same rights as a person regarding freedom of speech. They can give as much money as they want to support a candidate of their choice without giving the money directly to the candidates campaign, independent of the candidate's choice or knowledgs. Further, they don't have to disclose the source of the funding.

My Arguments Against This Ruling

  1. The ruling states that corporations have "person-hood." Just try to sue a corporation as a person and see how far you get.
  2. This ruling has spawned the Super PACs that you now hear about. Newt Gingrich's supporter's have funded 10 million to advertisements to support him.
  3. In the corporate world, spending billions of dollars to seize control is known as a hostile takeover. That's exactly what is happening to our democracy.

  4. We the people haven't been completely bought out --- or rather shoved out of having a voice in congress. But we're not far from living in the Untied Corporations of America. Now the more money they have the louder their voice in influencing our government.

  5. We've already seen the impact of out-sized corporate money on our democracy. It is clearly evident in Wisconsin, where Governor Walker, whose election campaign was funded by the Koch brothers and other large private interests, is favoring private corporations over the needs of pubic employees and working families.

  6. The reason big moneyed interest are supporting these campaigns is because they have an agenda that requires congress to vote in their favor on some issue. If the candidate becomes elected, that candidate then becomes beholden to the supporters and will work for their interest instead of the man on the street. This places our democracy in jeopardy.

What can we do About This?

  1. Share this hub with everybody. It's important for people to understand what this ruling is really about.
  2. Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court decision in the case called Citizens United vs. FEC (Federal Elections Commison).

A Summary of Senator Sanders' Petition

  • Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
  • Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
  • Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
  • Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.


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