Today marks the one year anniversary of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission that declared that limiting campaign contributions from corporations limits their freedom of speech.
The ruling overturned a 1947 statute that banned corporations from using profits to support or oppose political candidates. The justices ruled this unconstitutional under the First Amendment, saying that corporations had the same rights to political speech as individuals.
The 2010 case was sparked by a movie critical of Hilary Clinton produced by Citizens United. The film, called “Hilary: The Movie,” was a 90-minute attack on the then 2008 presidential candidate. Citizens United Had been told in lower courts that they were in violation of the McCain-Feingold Act which banned corporations from funding “any broadcast, cable or satellite communications” referring to any federal candidate during election season. This section of the Act was also overturned by the decision.
The ruling is already having a major impact on campaigns. Money made possible by the ruling made up 15 percent of the almost $4 billion spent in the midterms in November, and $85 million was spent on just Senate races. Thirty percent of spending by outside groups was made anonymously, which was illegal prior to the ruling. Many suspect that the ruling gave a boost to the number of seats taken by Republicans in the midterm.
And even though its been a year, the ruling is still causing a lot of conflict.
Opponents say that the money taints elections and subjects the government to undue influences by corporations who can now give to whoever they want without sticking their name on it. Some opposition groups, like “Move to Amend” are holding a slew of rallies across the country advocating the overturning of the decision.
Movement for the People is also holding a rally today, and has released this video (among others) to explain their opposition:
Supporters of the ruling are celebrating today. Citizens United even released their own snazzy video on why they thing the ruling was justified.
Congressional opponents of the ruling have proposed legislation that would soften the blow of the Citizens United ruling, but they are already unhopeful about their passage.
But hope comes for opponents in the form of potential conflicts of interest. Common Cause, a government watchdog group, has asked the Department of Justice to look into whether Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from hearing the case because if they attended a private meeting sponsored by billionaire philanthropists Charles and David Koch, who are big funders of conservative causes.
A spokesperson for the court denies that the two were attending the meeting, saying that they simply “dropped by.” Both Thomas and Scalia voted in favor of Citizens United.
Should the Justice Department find fault, however, they would ask for the case to be reheard.