Citizens United

April 16th, 2021

Hello everyone and welcome back to another week at the Supreme Court. This week we are talking about perhaps one of the most impactful and some might say problematic Supreme Court cases in the last 20 years. Citizens United v. FEC is often simply referred to as “Citizens United” because it simple. It is also one of the only simple things about this case. My goal today is to try to distill it as much as possible.

 First things first, I will tell you what it means. Citizens United overruled a long-standing court decision that limited the amount of money that corporations could spend on political campaigns. What this did was allow corporations to act as “people” and thus are required by the Constitution to be able to use their finances to influence campaigns (like commercials, ads, donations to help a politician win an election) as much as they like. Across the last 3 presidential elections, the amount of money spent each election has more than doubled to nearly 10 billion in total spending in the 2020 presidential election. The idea was a conservative non-profit group sued the FEC after they stopped Citizens United from airing a movie that criticized Hillary Clinton leading up to the 2008 presidential election. The idea by the justices who voted in favor of Citizens United (it was a 5-4 vote, so very close) was that the money would be transparent and obviously not corrupt. However, the past election cycles and studies down have found that not to be the case. The reason being is that these corporations can get their money from anywhere, and they are not required to say where it is from. This means that if someone from anywhere in the world wanted a specific politician to win for their gain, they can give money and no one in the US would know where it came from.

That is all this week, I know it was slightly dark, but it is an important case to understand when looking at presidential elections. See you next week!

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