In 2010, the Supreme Court decided the landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, commonly known as Citizens United.
This case overturned previous precedents and set a new one in American politics regarding campaign finance law. It further reinforced the idea of corporate personhood and recognized protection of corporate-funded free speech under the First Amendment.
It also had the unintentional effect of flooding election cycles with larger sums of money from special interest groups.
In 2008, Citizens United intended to release and distribute a movie made with political contributions from corporations and unions that criticized Hillary Clinton. As a result of prior campaign finance reform laws, they weren’t allowed to release the movie.
Citizens United sued the Federal Election Commission seeking an injunction to prevent the application of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) to the movie.
Some sections of the BCRA had already been challenged in court by this time, but Citizens United was seeking injunctions against sections that prevented corporations and unions from funding election communications and donor disclosure.
Since the movie they were releasing didn’t explicitly support or denounce a candidate, they believed their media was exempt from the restrictions in the BCRA.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United in that the prevention of the release of their movie infringed on their rights to free speech. This is regardless of who paid for the advertisement.
They further ruled that communications urging people to vote for or against a candidate are still subject to the BCRA. The communication that Citizens United sought to release did not meet those conditions and was thus exempt from that section of the BCRA.
In the end, the ruling came to the conclusion that Citizens United’s communication was protected speech and thus exempt from the BCRA. During the 2008 election season, they should have been allowed to release their feature-length documentary.
Since 2010, we’ve reached record levels of campaign spending with the majority of the new spending coming from corporate and private donors who give money to super PACs.
This allows them to avoid the individual limit on campaign contributions to candidate committees. Currently, the most a single person can give to a candidate committee is $2700 per election. This limit exists to equal the playing field.
The disproportionate campaign spending by the wealthy is, in fact, so egregious that half of the campaign money raised so far in this election cycle have come from just 158 families.
Facts are showing us that allowing unlimited campaign contributions allows the free speech possessed by those with money to drown out the free speech of those without. Democracy doesn’t function if everyone isn’t heard and in an environment like this, the wealthy speak louder because politicians need money to run campaigns.
They don’t represent the interests of the working and middle class if they aren’t writing large checks to them. Several candidates have come out in support of a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United and ban unlimited campaign contributions.
In order to preserve our democracy and ensure that the government represents us, it’s crucial that we elect politicians who are in favor of overturning Citizens United in order to disallow corporations and unions from making campaign contributions.
Even better would be the public funding of elections so politicians didn’t have to worry about fundraising. They would run on the merits of their ideas, not the number of donors and the amount of airtime they can purchase.