In the 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC, history has proven the ruling’s chief critics completely wrong about its impact on American democracy.
The ruling did not usher in an era of unrestrained corporate campaign spending that drowned out the voices of ordinary Americans. Instead, by opening up alternative funding sources, Citizens United and its progeny have helped our democracy to flourish by taking power from the establishment political elites and their news media cronies, and made it possible for outsider candidates, such as Donald Trump, to effectively compete for votes in the American political arena.
Before the ink even had a chance to dry, The New York Times, itself a corporation, fired off an editorial decrying the decision, saying it “thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century.” President Barack Obama in his 2010 State of the Union address a few days later claimed the court’s ruling “will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in or elections.”
As our new film on Citizens United discusses, in the decade that has followed, none of this has come to pass. Yes, corporations may lawfully play a role in American elections, but their financial impact has been quite small compared to other funding sources.
A Report by the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board summed it up as follows: No major corporation has spent money independently in support of a candidate. Only two companies in 2014 and 10 in 2016 made independent expenditures from corporate funds, and these companies spent relatively miniscule amounts.
Even when it comes to the funding of so-called Super PACs, groups that can accept unlimited contributions from corporations as well as individuals, corporate funding amounted to just 5 percent of those groups’ receipts in 2014 and 6 percent in 2016. This is hardly the Genesis flood of corporate funding that the decision’s critics predicted.
Read the rest of the Washington Times Op-ed…