Citizens United v. FEC: Six Years Later

On Jan. 21, 2010, six years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that government cannot limit independent spending in our elections by corporations and labor groups.

The ruling reshaped the political playing field and supercharged the role of money in politics. In Michigan, alone, spending on the 2014 election was $134.6 million, up about 25 percent from the 2010 election. The 2014 election also saw the most expensive State House races and attorney general race in Michigan’s history, according to data we've collected.

After the Supreme Court issued its decision six years ago, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network issued a statement saying the question before our state was whether we expect and want transparency and accountability for corporate spending in our election campaigns.

“Up to this time, all the corporate spending in our election campaigns has been outside the state campaign finance reporting system,” MCFN wrote on Jan. 21, 2010. It continued, “It is high time for the Michigan Legislature to pass a law requiring similar disclosure in state campaigns”

Instead, our state has gone the other way, specifically exempting independent expenditures that don’t expressly advocate for a candidate’s election or defeat from disclosure. Lawmakers have also increased campaign contribution limits and just last month, signed off on a series of other campaign finance law changes desired by corporations.

That’s where we’re at six years after Citizens United v. FEC. So in honor of that journey, we're sharing today six quotes from then-Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent that are worth reflecting on today:

1) “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting is, among other things, a form of speech.”

2) “The unparalleled resources, professional lobbyists, and single minded focus they bring to this effort, I believed, make quid pro quo corruption and its appearance inherently more likely when they (or their conduits or trade groups) spend unrestricted sums on elections."

3) “In an age in which money and television ads are the coin of the campaign realm, it is hardly surprising that corporations deployed these ads to curry favor with, and to gain influence over, public officials.”

4)  “Starting today, corporations with large war chests to deploy on electioneering may find democratically elected bodies becoming much more attuned to their interests.”

5) “Americans may be forgiven if they do not feel the Court has advanced the cause of self-government today.”

6) “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

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