Center for American Progress

RELEASE: On 5th Anniversary of Citizens United Ruling, It Is Time for Action on Money in Politics
Press Release

RELEASE: On 5th Anniversary of Citizens United Ruling, It Is Time for Action on Money in Politics

American Progress releases several looks at how Citizens United is allowing the rich to rig the rules in their favor.

Washington, D.C. — Five years ago, the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case gave a small group of deep-pocketed donors an outsized voice in American elections and lawmaking, leading to more than $3.7 billion in campaign spending during the 2014 midterms. Preceding today’s fifth anniversary, American Progress has developed several looks at just how the increased spending and changing laws around the elections of judges are affecting Americans.

It is no longer a secret that a small group of rich donors has taken over American politics, as a new fact sheet from CAP Action shows. Just 42 of the richest Americans accounted for nearly 30 percent of the paid advertising buys, and dark-money groups—organizations that do not disclose their donors—poured hundreds of millions of dollars more into independent expenditure campaigns. And a Huffington Post op-ed from Michele Jawando, Vice President for Legal Progress at CAP, notes that the top 100 donors in the same elections spent enough to match some 4.75 million other donors combined.

“Since the Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case five years ago, the power of politics and policymaking has been in the hands of just a few of the richest Americans,” Jawando said. “The cost of elections has ballooned and we are creating an environment in which the amount of say each American has is directly correlated to how much they can afford. The result isn’t surprising: wealthy donors who are rigging the rules to create an economy that works for them and no one else.”

A column from CAP Deputy General Counsel Alex DeMots provides several suggestions for addressing the increase of money in politics:

  • Executive branch: Mandate further disclosure of political spending by federal contractors to ferret out corruption in the contracting process.
  • Internal Revenue Service: Strengthen rules governing political activities by nonprofits so dark-money groups can no longer masquerade as “social welfare” organizations.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission: Develop rules requiring corporations to disclose political expenditures to shareholders to ensure corporate spending is in line with shareholder values.

In addition to the impact on legislative branch elections, the increased spending has started to have an impact on the people charged with meting out justice: judges. This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether judges should be allowed to solicit campaign donations from wealthy donors, including lawyers who argue cases in their courtrooms. Worse yet, a CAP report from 2014 found a correlation between campaign cash from attorneys and favorable rulings by the North Carolina Supreme Court in cases involving polluters.

“Our judicial system is based on the notions of fairness, justice, impartiality and equal application of the law,” Jawando said. “Judges should be above reproach and far from the big money being poured into our political system. Instead, we are not only seeing possible cases of money influencing courtroom decisions, but also a major push to blow the law open and increase the amount of money in judicial elections. Justice can never be based on how much of it you can afford.”

The following have been released by American Progress in the past week, showing how money has influenced American elections, including the judicial branch, since the Citizens United ruling:

For more information, contact Benton Strong at or 202.481.8142.