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Citizens United: The Supreme Court Ruling

The Problem

Full text of Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (PDF) Public Citizen's testimony to Congress after the Supreme Court ruling (PDF)

On January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed a flood of corporate money into our political system by announcing, contrary to longstanding precedents, that corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or defeat candidates. The decision in this historic case – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – overturns a century of campaign finance law.

The court overruled two existing Supreme Court decisions. In Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the court held that the government can limit for-profit corporations to the use of PACs to fund express electoral advocacy. McConnell v. FEC applied that principle to uphold the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on “electioneering communications” — that is, corporate funding of election-eve broadcasts that mention candidates and convey unmistakable electoral messages. Striking down these decisions unleashes unlimited corporate and union spending in not just federal candidate campaigns, but allows for millions to be spent to influence state and local elections where the money is even more effective.

Reversing the well-established laws and judicial precedents barring direct corporate and union financing of elections is a radical affront to American political culture and poses grave dangers to the integrity of our democracy.

Read more about the case by viewing our Factsheets above.