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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

Topic(s): Campaign Finance


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On January 21, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 5-justice majority, over a stirring dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens, used the case to overturn two prior court decisions that limited the role of corporate money in politics and to issue a sweeping new rule: For-profit corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal and state elections. Litigation Group attorney Scott Nelson was co-counsel for the key congressional sponsors of the McCain-Feingold law, who filed amicus briefs in the Supreme Court.

The decision is likely to be enormously harmful. Corporations already dominate our political process-through political action committees, fundraisers, high-paid lobbyists, personal contributions by corporate insiders, and more. On the dominant issues of the day-climate change, health care, financial regulation-corporate interests are leveraging their political investments to sidetrack vital measures to protect the planet and its people. Citizens United offers them new tools to influence and intimidate lawmakers.

Now that the Court has tossed out major parts of our campaign finance laws, we must find new ways of keeping our elections clean. The possibilities include public financing of congressional elections, laws to give shareholders control over corporate spending, and even amending the Constitution to allow limitations on electioneering by for-profit corporations. Public Citizen is working to develop a comprehensive response to the Court's ruling.

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