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What is the "Citizen's United" Ruling?

Updated on February 10, 2015

Campaign Finance Prior to The Ruling

The 1990 Supreme Court case, "Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce," disallowed Corporations and other private entities from endorsing or disparaging candidates in an effort to influence elections with any kind of mass media expenditures coming from their treasury funds.The 2002 Supreme Court case, "McConnell v. Federal Election Commission," likewise did the same thing prohibiting expenditures made by Corporations, unions, or other associations that resulted in media mentioning a specific candidate within thirty days of an election and within 60 days of a primary

In both cases the plaintiffs claimed that the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 which established this prohibition was an infringement upon the free speech engendered by the first amendment. The plaintiffs argued for the right of Corporations, Associations, and Unions to be allowed to speak freely on campaigns and candidates as autonomous entities in the influencing of elections. In both cases the constitutionality of free speech was not extended to these groups and it was reasoned in the summation of the former case that a guard was needed to prevent a "different type of corruption in the political arena: the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

After, "Citizens United."

The 2010 case, "Citizens United v. Federal Election Board," raised this question of the right of Corporations to advocate in their interests with unfettered free speech in the Political arena yet again.

Citizens United, a private non-profit neoconservative organization, was disallowed to air a film criticizing Hilary Clinton During the 2008 Primary season. This was appealed and reached the Supreme Court in 2010.

In a 5-4 decision the Citizens United group prevailed thus overturning, "Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce," part of, "McConnell v. Federal Election Commission," and the statute erected by the 1971, "Federal Election Campaign Act."

Now What exactly changed with this ruling is often misinterpreted and overly-generalized. Here are some important points regarding what did and what did not change as a result of this ruling;

1. Direct contribution to campaigns from Corporations and other private organizations remain illegal.

2. Public disclosure of the financing of Political advertisements remain a requirement.

3. The ruling does not permit corporations and other organizations to donate directly to campaigns nor did it change the amounts that could be individually donated to campaigns.

4. Corporations could now use their general treasury fund for, "electioneering communications," that were not the direct result of coordination with a campaign.

5. It was now a violation of the free speech of Corporations or other private organizations to disallow them from producing and airing independent communications endorsing or disparaging a political candidate.

The Rise of The Super PAC

The, "Citizens United," ruling is often credited solely for the establishment of Super PACs (Political Action Committees). But this ruling still did not reverse the disallowance of PACs from accepting Corporate contributions or individual contributions In excess of $5,000.

In " v. Federal Election Commission" two months after the, "Citizens United Ruling," the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held in a 9-0 decision that in light of the, "Citizens United," ruling the sources and sizes of contributions did not have to be disclosed or limited in the case of private organizations contributing independent expenditures, that is un-collaborated with specific campaigns, in support or opposition of a Political candidate.

This gave individuals, corporations, and special interest groups the ability to privately fund PACs supporting the election of a candidate with no necessary public disclosure concerning the amounts and sources of money donated.

These two rulings made the 2012 presidential election an entirely unique event in that campaigns could now be buttressed and financed, as long as the collaboration wasn't blatantly obvious, by single individuals, small consortiums of individuals with shared legislative interests, and Corporations. Karl Rove alone managed super PACs that spent in excessive of $300 million in support of Republican candidates.

The political fall out of such a system being entirely legalized has been the cause of much concern. The dissenting Justice Stephens in the, "Citizens United," ruling wrote, "A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold," and that "the improper use of money to influence the result [of an election] is to deny to the nation in a vital particular the power of self protection."

In effect the ruling gives the wealthy a much louder and persistent voice in the Political process and moves us closer in the direction of a Plutocracy. What's more the decision treats Corporations as individuals with the same rights to free expression as actual people. In that Corporations are legally bound only to maximize the value of the shares held by their stockholders, this makes them decidedly impersonal entities that are bound to push the legal limits of environmentally hazardous production processes. They also reserve the right to collective indifference regarding their reinvestment in domestic Economic health.


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    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 4 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      There is no doubt in my mind that corporations have taken over our government through their use of money to influence the outcome of political campaigns and the passage of laws that affect them financially and as the unpatriotic stance they seem to have toward the country of their origin .They the N. W. O.

      No boarders . A one world government with unpresidented control over everyone in the world.If ,they get their way.

      This wood seem like a good thing if,it weren't for all the corruption in the world.