Too Much of a Good Thing: Campaign Speech after Citizens United
29 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2010
Date Written: September 30, 2010
In January 2010, the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the portion of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission that restricted independent corporate expenditures, as codified in section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Specifically, Citizens United invalidated laws forbidding corporations and unions from using general treasury funds for “electioneering communication,” political advocacy transmitted by broadcast, cable, or satellite communication in the period leading up to a federal election. The effect of Citizens United was to protect the right of corporations, no less than individual American citizens, to fund and distribute political advocacy. The Citizens United holding is controversial for many reasons, not the least of which is that it takes a hard-line approach that unapologetically privileges speech, even while tacitly acknowledging the potential for negative effects. This Article challenges the Citizens United decision on several grounds. First, I dispute the majority’s claim that corporate spending does not result in “corruption.” Second, I assert that the potential for corruption poses a real and serious threat to democratic elections and that preventing this corruption is therefore a vital governmental interest justifying restraints on “speech.” Finally, I adopt the majority’s free speech priority and propose that even if the First Amendment is the only legitimate consideration, corporate spending is harmful because it chills speech in a manner not contemplated by the Court.
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