Citizens United online symposium

  • January 21, 2011
    Guest Post


    This post is part of an ACSblog symposium marking the one-year anniversary of the landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC.


    The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC sparked a wave of criticism and diverse efforts to mitigate its effects. Attorney Jeffrey Clements, the co-founder and general counsel of Free Speech for People, spoke with ACSblog about why a constitutional amendment is best suited to overturning last year's decision. Clements is also the author of an ACS Issue Brief on the topic.

  • January 21, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Fred Wertheimer, president, Democracy 21. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium marking the one-year anniversary of the landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC. Follow Fred Wertheimer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FredWertheimer
    On January 21, 2010, five Supreme Court justices issued a disastrous decision that initiated a dangerous sea change in American politics.

    The Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 vote in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down a century of U.S. policy and decades of Court precedent to declare unconstitutional the ban on corporate expenditures in federal elections.

    In so doing, the five justices unleashed massive influence-seeking corporate expenditures and opened the door to enormous damage to our democracy.

    Corporations have trillions of dollars and they are now free to spend as much of their money as they want to buy influence over federal officeholders and government decisions.

    The Court decision constituted a political decision by five ideologically conservative justices who ignored history, ignored past precedent and ignored the jurisprudence that normally governs Supreme Court cases. Instead, the ustices issued a decision that represents a classic case of legislating from the bench, a practice repeatedly frowned on by these same justices.

    The rights of citizens are laced throughout our constitution. The word "corporation" never appears.
    Nevertheless, the five "strict constructionist" Justices chose to elevate corporations to the level of citizens in our political process. They conferred on corporations the "constitutional" right to directly participate in our elections, a "constitutional" right that did not exist prior to the day of the decision.

    The Court's decision, furthermore, was built on a series of deeply flawed assumptions.

  • January 21, 2011
    Guest Post

    This post is part of an ACSblog online symposium marking the one-year anniversary of the landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC. The author, Richard L. Hasen, is a Visiting Professor at UC Irvine School of Law and author of the Election Law Blog.
    When the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC, arguably the most controversial decision of the Court since Bush v. Gore, observers offered a variety of predictions about what the post-Citizens United world allowing unlimited corporate and labor union spending in candidate elections would look like. Some thought corporations would be in a position to buy election results, or, as President Obama said, to "drown out the voices of ordinary Americans." Others thought the decision would not have much impact, because earlier Supreme Court decisions, including the Court's opinion in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, had already made it much easier for corporations and labor unions to influence the outcome of candidate elections. Early empirical studies are still sorting out the effect of the case on the 2010 elections, and there's much speculation about how the case will play out in the 2012 presidential elections.

    Justice Kennedy, author of the majority opinion in Citizens United, offered his own vision of the post-CU world within the case itself. He envisioned free exchange of ideas in a democratic marketplace, coupled with complete and instantaneous disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures over the Internet: "A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today...With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters."

    Whether Justice Kennedy believed that existing campaign finance disclosure law would provide for this free and instantaneous exchange of information about campaign money or whether he was instead advocating that Congress adopt such a system is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Citizens United has not only unleashed new money into the election process; actions by lower courts and the FEC, combined with an inadequate disclosure regime, have led to a system of largely undisclosed corporate, union, and individual campaign contributions flooding into elections.