What is “Citizens United”?

See also SuperPACs and Secret Money

In the 2010 “Citizens United vs. FEC,” the Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, such as media.

From Miriam Marziani:

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court held that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited funds on campaign advertisements, provided that these communications are not formally “coordinated” with any candidate.  In so holding, it found that the political speech rights of American voters and corporate entities are indistinguishable.

Citizens United’s immediate impact was substantial. In one swift stroke, the Court overturned at least twenty years of its own precedent, rendered unconstitutional more than sixty years of federal law restricting corporate electioneering expenditures, and annihilated the statutes of twenty-two states that previously prohibited election spending from corporate general-treasury funds.  Citizens United also ignited widespread popular, academic and political discussion about money, politics and the Constitution—a nationwide dialogue that has not yet abated.

Now that we are well into the 2012 election cycle, the decision’s lasting effects are clearer and clearer.

Useful informational graphic from 2010, outlining the effects of the Citizens United decision.

This 8 minute video from “The Story of Stuff” is a great introduction to the history and current status of money in our politics and what we can do about it.

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On January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court (in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) ruled that the First Amendment gives corporations a right to spend unlimited amounts of money trying to influence elections.

Overnight, bedrock principles like “one person, one vote” and “government of, by and for the people” were undermined.

Now, our democracy is at grave risk of becoming nothing more than an auction-one in which the We the People will always be outbid.

Corporations are not people. They do not breathe or eat or sleep. They do not dance or fall in love or raise children. They do not go bowling or fight in wars or get cancer. They do not vote. Yet now they threaten to trample democracy by claiming constitutional protections that were intended only for actual people.

U.S Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), succinctly expressing what millions of Americans — from people in your community to President Barack Obama — are thinking, called Citizens United “one of the worst decisions I have ever seen.”

The ruling must be overturned, and a constitutional amendment is the best way to do that.

–from “Democracy is for People

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…Sometimes it takes a comic or two to show the absurdities of our world. Watch  Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and former John McCain 2008 Presidential Campaign advisor Trevor Potter discuss the complicated legalese of SuperPACs and the fuzzy borders of “Campaign Coordination.”
Vodpod videos no longer available.

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90 seconds from Ben & Jerry’s on “Getting the Dough out”

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11 thoughts on “What is “Citizens United”?

  1. Pingback: News: “High court agrees to consider corporate free speech post-Citizen United” | we the people | needham

  2. Pingback: EVENT: Board of Selectman Hears Citizens Petition | we the people | needham

  3. Pingback: From the Board of Selectmen Hearing on our Citizens Petition (April 10, 2012) | we the people | needham

  4. Pingback: Boston.com: “Needham selectmen weigh measure challenging Super PACs” | we the people | needham

  5. Pingback: Boston.com: Needham Board of Selectmen votes to support challenge to Supreme Court Decision | we the people | needham

  6. Pingback: “Town Meeting will decide” –J. H. Powers | we the people | needham

  7. Pingback: NEWS: Framingham joins effort to overturn Citizens United decision | we the people | needham

  8. Pingback: James Hugh Powers: Town Meeting Should Decide | we the people | needham

  9. Pingback: Article 23 Vote Tonight at Needham Town Meeting | we the people | needham

  10. Richard Nicola, Colorado Springs, CO Don’t believe a word of this double talk. The organization that has by far spent the most on the political movements and taken $ right out of their members pockets are the Unions. And that money that the Unions took from their members (people) and gave it to the liberals that are now squealing like a pig, now that the people on the other side of the fence are backing Corporations to help them have an equal voice. Corporations employ people who earn a salary and pay their taxes and give generously to people in need, so the needs of the people can be met, like food , housing, gas for their car, vacations. The Corporation does not take money from their employes (people) and spend it on some irresponsible movement that make it more difficult and costly to do business, and therefore impede the hiring of more and more people, who will pay their fair share of taxes and MINIMIZE THE NEED for more and more welfare. Don’t you get it, the government does not have any money, the money comes from WE THE PEOPLE. The government is supposed to protect the people not run us into over powering debt and irresponsible spending. What do you do in your household when you find you are spending more money than you earn, you can’t keep borrowing money or print money, you just have to cut back on your over spending.
    Granted Corporations and the shareholders make lots of money, but they provide what your wear, what you eat, places for you to live and cars for you to drive, etc. etc, AND HAVE A JOB FOR YOU TO WORK AND EARN A LIVING FOR YOUR FAMILY AND CAUSE YOU TO BE PROUD OF WHAT YOU HAVE DONE.!! DON’T FALL FOR THIS LINE OF BULL THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE SPITING INTO YOUR FACE. STAND UP FOR YOURSELF AND SPEAK THE TRUTH. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHETHER YOU WORK FOR A CORPORATION OR YOU WORK FOR YOUR SELF. LET FREEDOM RING!

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