The Real Effects of Citizens United

Recently, we marked the ten year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). We continue to hear a lot about this decision in the mainstream media, with some Democratic candidates describing it as a threat to American democracy, launching attacks on any candidate - liberal, socialist or otherwise - that will take money or support from political action committees (PACS) of any kind.

As we reflect on the last decade of Citizens United, it is important to cut through the hysteria of the current political climate and look at the real effects of this case. Former FEC Chairman Bradley A. Smith observed that:

Since Citizens United, party outsiders such as Mr. Trump and Bernie Sanders have risen to national prominence. And money hasn't been able to buy elections as predicted. . . Hillary Clinton outspent Mr. Trump 3 to 1 in 2016.

Down the ballot, challengers have also greatly benefited from Citizens United, far more than incumbents, as Institute for Free Speech Research Director Scott Blackburn noted

All told, the five election cycles since Citizens United saw an average of 79 freshmen members of Congress. The five cycles prior to the decision saw just 55.

The much talked about “big corporate” contributions “buying” elections has not proved to be a reality.

Corporate political spending continues to be dwarfed by spending from other traditional sources. In the four cycles since the decision, for-profit corporate political spending has averaged around 1% of spending from all sources.

Additionally, contributions to super PACS have been far outweighed by other contributions and expenditures subject to limits:

Contributions to super PACs have ranged from 12% to 26% of total political contributions over the four cycles since Citizens United. Candidates and political parties continue to outspend super PACs by at least three-to-one.

Looking back on the case, Citizens United President David Bossie wrote:

The liberal assault on the Citizens United decision continues to this day. The left’s main policy goal is to pass a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that would destroy the protections we cherish under the First Amendment.

As Democratic candidates continue to spread a great deal of misinformation about the Citizens United decision and its effects, it is important to remember the very heart of what the case was all about - the freedom of speech.