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Understanding the Citizens United Decision and Its Impact on American Politics

The Citizens United decision, handed down by the Supreme Court in 2010, has had a profound impact on American politics and campaign financing. In order to fully understand the ruling and its consequences, it is important to explore the background, arguments, and outcomes of the case.

The Citizens United case originated from a dispute between the conservative nonprofit organization Citizens United and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Citizens United sought to air a film critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign. The FEC, however, deemed the film to be an “electioneering communication” and prohibited its distribution.

The central argument in the Citizens United case was whether the government could restrict the political speech of corporations, specifically in the form of independent expenditures. Citizens United contended that such restrictions violated their First Amendment rights to free speech. The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Citizens United, ruling that political spending by corporations and unions is a form of protected speech.

The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case was twofold. Firstly, it struck down certain provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act) that prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds for independent political expenditures. This opened the floodgates for corporations, unions, and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

Secondly, the ruling led to the creation of Super PACs (Political Action Committees). Super PACs are independent expenditure-only committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions to support or oppose political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are not allowed to donate directly to candidates or coordinate with their campaigns.

The Citizens United decision has been highly controversial. Critics argue that it has allowed for the undue influence of money in politics, giving wealthy individuals and corporations a disproportionate amount of power in shaping political outcomes. They contend that this has undermined the democratic principles of equal representation and fair elections.


In response to the ruling, the organization End Citizens United was formed. End Citizens United is a grassroots-funded political action committee that aims to overturn the Citizens United decision and advocate for campaign finance reform. They support candidates who are committed to reducing the influence of money in politics and promoting transparency in campaign financing.

The Citizens United ruling also has its roots in previous Supreme Court decisions, such as Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. In Buckley v. Valeo, the Court held that campaign finance regulations could not limit the amount of money individuals could spend on their own campaigns. This decision established the precedent that spending money on political campaigns is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.

The conclusion of the Citizens United case has left a lasting impact on American politics. It has significantly altered the landscape of campaign financing, allowing for increased corporate and union influence in elections. The decision has also fueled ongoing debates about the role of money in politics and the need for campaign finance reform.

To address the issue of money in politics, various proposals have been put forth. Some advocate for stricter campaign finance regulations, including limits on individual and corporate contributions. Others argue for public financing of elections to reduce the influence of private money. Additionally, grassroots movements and organizations like End Citizens United continue to push for the reversal of the Citizens United decision and the implementation of meaningful campaign finance reforms.

In conclusion, the Citizens United decision has had a far-reaching impact on American politics. It has opened the door for increased corporate and union spending in elections, leading to concerns about the influence of money in politics. While the ruling remains controversial, it has sparked important conversations about campaign finance reform and the need to ensure a fair and transparent electoral process.

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