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Citizens United vs FEC

A government “of, by and for the people” is the most basic promise of American democracy ─ but in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling dealt a serious blow to this concept. In a 5-4 decision, the Court said it is unconstitutional to limit the amount of money corporations and trade unions spend to tell people to elect or defeat specific candidates.

Since the Citizens United ruling, outside spending in elections has skyrocketed and millions of corporate dollars have swept special-interest candidates into office across the nation and here in NC.

More Background on the Ruling

The United States Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission said it is unconstitutional to limit the amount of money that corporations (and trade unions) can spend on independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. The court’s rationale was that this kind of political spending was a form of free speech.

The Citizens United ruling covered only corporate-funded political broadcasts created by so-called “independent” groups, which are organizations that are not directly tied to candidate campaigns — although “independent” groups can (and do) advocate for or against specific candidates. This ruling is a problem for democracy because it gives corporations far more spending power in elections than individuals. In addition, because these independent groups don’t have to disclose where they get their money, Citizens United creates a way for unlimited amounts of secret money to flood our elections.

In fact, within a year of the ruling, millions of dollars, often from unknown sources, poured into elections across America, including right here in North Carolina.

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Citizens United Against Citizens United

A grassroots movement grew against the Supreme Court’s decision to give corporations new ways to buy politicians and public policy. There are several proposals in Congress to reverse the impact of Citizens United, including several proposals to amend the US Constitution to say that corporations are not people and political spending is not free speech. Resolutions calling for such amendments have also been in the NC House and NC Senate and local resolutions have passed in numerous NC cities.

You Can Help!

These organizations have numerous fact sheets, issue briefs, and other resources on Citizens United and money in politics, plus ways to take action!