Does Citizens United Protect Your Freedom of Speech?

Bradley Smith,

Release Date
May 28, 2016


Free Speech

Has Citizens United protected your freedom of speech? Or has it made it so that our democracy is overrun by corporate interests?

What Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Means for Free Speech Today ” (article) – Campaign finance reform sounds great, but it has a dark side. And most people don’t understand just how terrifying its implications could be. 
Citizens Divided? Freedom and Money in Politics (program) Join Prof. Smith for a deep dive into money and freedom in politics. Take a fresh look at the electoral process and challenge some misconceptions you might have had about PACs and Super PACs. You’ll never see politics the same way again. 

>> There are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections.
>> Citizens United changed our democracy at its core.
>> And we are gonna overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United.
>> Get rid of Citizens United and its pernicious effects
>> on our electoral system.
>> Did the Supreme Court make a mistake with its 2010 ruling on Citizens United versus the FEC? Every American should be concerned about the corrupting influence money can have in our political process, so it’s easy to understand where the critics are coming from.
But is the Citizens United decision really as bad as they would have us believe? Has it resulted in corporations flooding our elections with dark money and drowning out the voice of the individual? Before, entrenched politicians were the only candidates who could acquire the financial resources to broadcast their message to a large audience.
That all changed with Citizens United. For example, the 2010 mid-term and the 2012 presidential elections resulted in the lowest two-cycle incumbent re-election rate in the house of representatives since 1966. Since Citizens United, corporate spending in elections has remained steady at 2.5% to 5% of total campaign spending. And Citizens United didn’t provide a cloak of anonymity for donors.
More disclosure is required now for campaign spending than ever before. Finally, the often criticized super PACs that have emerged since Citizens United have been funded mostly with money from individuals, not corporations. In fact, individual spending was not even at issue at Citizens United. Which brings us to what Citizens United was really all about, the First Amendment.
In the Citizens United case, the FEC claimed it could use campaign finance laws to prohibit the publication and distribution of certain political movies and books. If they had won, the decision wouldn’t have just impacted organizations like Citizens United, it would have granted the government the power to sensor content published by companies like Amazon and Netflix, or independent studios like Focus and Participant Media.
If any company published something with a single sentence of political advocacy, it could be banned. Since companies are involved at some point in the publication of nearly every book or film in the United States, the implications would be staggering. It could create a chilling effect on every form of free speech as companies avoid the risk of lawsuits.
This raises an important question, does the First Amendment’s protection of free speech apply only to individuals, or does it extend also to associations of individuals? Or do individuals lose their right to free speech when they choose to join with others in order to express it? The Supreme Court ruled against the federal government and said that groups of people, non-profits, clubs, and yes, even for-profit corporations possess the same right to political expression as the individuals who make up those organizations.
The mixture of money and politics existed long before Citizens United, and that wouldn’t change if it were overturned. It would, however, give the federal government tremendous power to silence political speech that the establishment finds disagreeable. In the case of Citizens United, the Supreme Court got it right and stood up for every American’s right to free speech.