What is Citizen’s United and is it really a problem?

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Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal...

Public views of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are being hammered by political issues everyday that are emotion and hype filled. Most of us really don’t know what the heck they are talking about, but the ads and emails sure do manage to push hot buttons and get a reaction, don’t they?

One of those is Citizens United. We hear every day about getting corporate donations out of government. But is that the whole story?

I read a lot of articles trying to find explanations that made sense, in English.

The original case was Citizens United VS FEC

Citizens United had produced an anti Hillary movie/documentary that they intended to release prior to the elections in 2008. At the time, corporations – including non-profits, were not allowed to run ads 60 days prior to an election that mentioned a candidate. I’m going for simplistic explanation here.

The FEC said they could not run the ads fro their movie. The case went to the Supreme Court.

The justices’ ruling said political spending is protected under the First Amendment, meaning corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities, as long as it was done independently of a party or candidate.(1)

That spawned the creation of Super PACs, Political Action Committees. They weren’t contributing directly to a candidate, there were no limits on how much they can contribute, and the origin of the contributions does not need to be disclosed. It’s the so called  “Dark Money.”

In a normal situation with checks and balances, if one side could have a Super PAC, so could the other. Not really a problem, right?

This puts the problem in perspective –

“We have folks that are essentially using million-dollar megaphones to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” says Adam Lioz, a senior adviser at the liberal policy group Demos. “These millionaires are kingmakers in our democracy.”


A Demos report released last week found winning Senate candidates in the 2014 races had to raise an average of $3,300 per day, every day, for six years (House candidates needed to raise $1,800 a day in their two-year cycle). The pressure to fundraise means candidates focus on those donors who can provide large donations, to the detriment of their less wealthy constituents.


“When you’re talking to the same kinds of people for six to eight hours a day, when you do call time and dial for dollars, you begin to believe that their problems are the country’s problems,” Lioz says. “You get a skewed and warped view of the way the world works, and it’s not because you’re a bad person or you’re corrupt, it’s because you’ve been placed in a very narrow and very wealthy world.


While this is not a phenomenon solely of Citizens United’s making, it has become a much more urgent issue in the past five years as people feel their voices – and their votes – are being drowned out.(1)

Which of course brings to light more problems with our broken system…

If you have to spend all this time raising funds for mud slinging, when are you working for us? When do you have time to read and understand the legislation that you are passing? Well, you don’t. You rely on staffer’s summaries. You listen to the whispering in your ear as you’re running down the hall. You react to arguments on the floor trying not to look stupid because your staffer didn’t include that point in the summary.

No wonder our government can’t get anything done!

I wonder if anyone told them that fewer people are watching TV and they could probably do more effective campaigns on social media for a lot less money…

Anyway, I hope that this gives you a little better understanding of the issue. Let me know! I have a couple more that I want to dig into.

(1) http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/01/21/5-years-later-citizens-united-has-remade-us-politics