Citizens United, One Year Later

People are still worked up

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Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, decided one year ago this Friday, was not a Supreme Court decision that left analysts on the fence. Opponents called the 5-4 vote that lifted restrictions on political donations a blow to free speech, and supporters declared it a long-overdue liberation from an unconstitutional gag order. The 2010 decision overturned two precedents and a portion of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Act that was designed to restrict how much money corporations could pour into election efforts. These same precedents, Citizens supporters note, also reined in donations from labor unions and not-for-profit 501(c) organizations. Tempers were hot when the decision initially came down, and the comments below show that, a year later, they are still not cool-to-the-touch.

  • Citizens United Was a Direct Assault on Transparency, avers former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat warns the fight isn't over, saying the "Supreme Court’s decision undermined that fundamental American value, we will continue to fight on behalf of the public interest and to preserve the integrity of our political campaigns."

  • The Midterm Money-Wars Were Nothing--Brace Yourselves for 2012, warns the executive director and publisher of Southern Exposure,Chris Kromm, on Alternet. An overwhelming concern, Kromm writes, is just how much money is flowing into campaign coffers and how easy it is for the sources to remain virtually anonymous. Equally important, Kromm says, is that there was little ramp-up time: existing groups such as the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove's American Crossroads and American Crossroads GPS barely blinked before unleashing funds for the 2010 mid-term elections that had a noticeable impact on 22 state races and helped  "fuel the Republicans' capture of the N.C. legislature for the first time since Reconstruction."
  • Citizens Opened the Floodgates to Millions, says Spencer MacColl at, a research arm of the Center for Responsible Politics. According to MacColl, the decision's impact is something to be grappled with, since "outside spending during the 2010 midterms was more than four times the amount recorded during the 2006 midterm election." This money, MacColl notes, is also being used for another purpose: to bolster House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's proposal to do away with making federal cash available to candidates in state and federal elections.
  • It Was a Long Time Coming, says Joel Gora, one of the ACLU lawyers who opposed campaign finance restrictions in two of the cases Citizens United vs. FEC overturned. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Gora says the decision was a fair deal: sure, corporations can donate money, but labor unions and non-profits also get to jump in and share the wealth. Gora heads off discussion about whether this means electioneering will be even costlier by quoting from the Court's decision: "it is not the government but the people—individually as citizens and candidates and collectively as associations and political committees—who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign."
  • The Furor About Citizens Was Over Nothing, says Reason's Nick Gillespie, who says there should have never been restrictions in the first place. The decision neatly cleared away the "stupidity of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance laws that clearly limited the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech." Gillespie adds that, if anything, the ruling was "unambiguously a blow for free-er speech (though it did uphold some other stupid aspects of campaign-finance laws)."

  • There Are Other Fish to Fry, writes The Tipsheet's Kevin Glass, who says this is no time to take one's eye off the ball; Arizona's Clean Election law has been in place since 2000 and is due before the Supreme Court. His problem with the law: a matching programs funnels taxpayer money to candidates they may or may not endorse.
  • A Biblical Reference Would Not Be Amiss, indicates David Bossie, Citizens United's president, in his ConservativeBlogWatch piece (he goes for the David/Goliath one). For Bossie, the Supreme Court struck a blow for unfettered speech and "forever changed the political landscape in American politics."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.