Center for American Progress

RELEASE: On the 10th Anniversary of Citizens United, Momentum Builds Toward Bold Pro-Democracy Reforms
Press Release

RELEASE: On the 10th Anniversary of Citizens United, Momentum Builds Toward Bold Pro-Democracy Reforms

Washington, D.C. — Next week marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money on election-related advertisements. The ruling triggered a flood of political spending over the past decade from super PACs and dark money organizations. These groups have been principally financed by special interests, foreign-influenced U.S. corporations, and the nation’s wealthiest individuals, spawning an epidemic of negative advertising that has further poisoned the U.S. political system. And as President Barack Obama famously warned, Citizens United opened the door not only to special interest corruption, but also to inappropriate foreign influence in U.S. elections.

Although Citizens United has warped the process of who gets elected—and therefore what policies elected lawmakers enact—the positive news is that Americans are increasingly demanding action to fight corruption and to safeguard elections so that big money does not undermine fair representation. Elected leaders around the nation are now passing bold pro-democracy policies. Earlier this week, the Seattle City Council passed legislation to ban political spending by foreign-influenced U.S. corporations. And in 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed once-in-a-generation legislation—known as H.R. 1—that would take bold steps to curb the culture of corruption.

The Supreme Court’s partisan decision in Citizens United spawned a decade where huge sums of money spent by the wealthy and well-connected allowed them to drown out the voices of the American people,” said Sam Berger, the Center for American Progress’ vice president of Democracy and Government Reform. “At the same time, an unprecedented conservative effort to pack the federal courts—also funded by anonymous dark money donors—has produced extreme right-wing judges who refuse to permit reasonable limits on money in politics. The Center for American Progress will continue to push elected leaders to heed Americans’ demands to pass reforms and unrig this corrupted system. These reforms include the public financing of campaigns, far more disclosure of political expenditures, and a ban on election-related spending by foreign-influenced U.S. corporations.”

Among the many important pro-democracy reforms that would help reverse the harmful effects of Citizens United—and for which CAP has advocated—are: passing a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s misguided decision; vastly increasing donor disclosure requirements; prohibiting shell corporations from making political donations; requiring effective disclosures for online ads; banning political spending by foreign-influenced U.S. corporations; passing legislation permitting the public financing of campaigns; barring lobbyists from fundraising for politicians; prohibiting lawmakers from accepting contributions from entities regulated by the committees they sit on; imposing stronger anti-coordination rules between campaigns and independent political entities; closing the revolving door between Congress and lobbyists; and modernizing lobbying definitions to better limit and track influence peddling.

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 For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at [email protected] or 202-478-6327.