What Really Happened in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission

The landmark Supreme Court case that changed the face of election finance has been praised by some and has raised the ire of others. The “pro” arguments center around First Amendment issues. The “anti” arguments are based entirely on the idea that corporations will rule elections in the future. How many of us really know how the case came about?

Citizens United is a non-profit organization that accepts donations to produce conservative films. They’re the group that made “Hillary: The Movie.” Before the 2008 primary elections, Citizens United tried to have “Hillary” put on pay-per-view, but they were denied for political reasons by the FEC. The reason? Three $1000 checks, from different corporations. Considering the millions in donations received by Citizens United, that’s a pretty small amount. Because the limit according to the law was $2300, not to mention laws that banned non-profits and corporations from buying advertising time 30 days before an election, “Hillary” was shot down.

THAT was why Citizens United sued the FEC.

This decision, like any other made by SCOTUS, didn’t just affect one issue. The decision to strike down McCain’s 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which made it illegal for Citizens United to “buy advertising time” in the form of a conservative documentary on pay-per-view, is going to have an effect on other things. That is when Congress can step up and work on campaign reform that isn’t going to run afoul of Freedom of Speech.

Like it or not – and believe me, there are some corporations I don’t want contributing unlimited funds to certain political parties – corporations have the same Constitutional rights as everyone does. If they didn’t, the government would be able to determine what kind of business can be founded. For example, we all have a particular distaste for white supremacists; if the government were allowed to regulate businesses outside the Constitution, those hate groups wouldn’t be allowed to operate and generate a profit for their owners. But exist they do, even if they don’t make much money.

To say that a business, corporate or otherwise, falls outside the Constitution is laughable at best. Once you tear down the rights of corporations you open the door for those rights to be trampled for everyone, and that is wrong. I don’t like George Soros. He has been slapped with a number of enormous fines for election finance fraud. Do I want him to be able to filter untold amounts of money to extremely liberal Democrats? No. We cannot, however, damage the rights of one group without damaging the rights of all.


5 thoughts on “What Really Happened in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission

  1. Great post! Although I must admit that its shocking to hear someone defend corporations. Its just not very common in todays society.

    Corporations can be very evil, but its a man at the heart of the corporation that sets the tone of the business. If we vigilantly watch the actions of those in powerful positions we can can gain insight to the candidates that they support. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

  2. Is this Citizens United the same group that had “Citizens United Not Timid” against Hillary Clinton?

    And why in the world would a conservative documentary be on pay-per-view? It does not sound right.

  3. Found this:
    I remember a bit when this happened and yet every time someone rails against the Supreme Court’s decision, the facts are never mentioned. Odd.
    I also have to say that corporations are capable of no more good or evil than people are because that is what corporations are made up of: people. I would be happy to see the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance law go down as it silenced too many and yet failed to stop money going into elections (they just found other ways). Then again I’d be happy to see the Patriot Act be repealed too as that has been seriously misused to hurt law abiding Americans (by both administrations). In that same vein I’d like to see myself win Powerball. Possible just not probable.
    Thanks for writing about this Mel, AndyB, NH.

  4. I don’t understand why corporations should be able to donate any more money than I can. Everyone says well, corporations are treated like people. I can’t donate more than the legal limit, can I? If they want to be treated like people, then they should be able to donate only as much as one person can donate.

  5. Amsron…the law that was struck down included all of us.

    It wasn’t just corporations.

    One of the biggest points of this blog was that a documentary was considered “campaigning” and was not allowed on private pay-per view.

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