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Money's Been Talking: How Citizens United v. FEC Obfuscates the View of the Role of Wealth in Our Democracy

22 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 21 Aug 2011

Elisabeth Chaves

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2011


When the Supreme Court delivered its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the decision’s opponents argued that the Court had just given corporations the same rights to free speech that individuals possessed. The opponents, as well as the court’s dissenting opinion, argued that democracy would suffer as a result. To equate money with speech necessarily impairs democracy was the critics’ reasoning. In response to the decision, a “Move to Amend” social movement launched seeking a constitutional amendment that money is not speech and that corporations should not be entitled to the same protections and rights afforded to “individuals.” The Court’s jurisprudence since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment has given more and more constitutional protections to corporations, and the Court’s recent decisions have made real campaign finance reform almost impossible. However, one has to practice the art of the ostrich to believe that money became speech in 2010 or that corporations only now have been given the right to unduly influence elections. Economic resources rather than political rights have determined whose speech is effective in our democracy for quite some time. To focus solely on a rhetoric of rights is to ignore the relations of production that favor some speech over others. Further, in a media ecology where effective speech requires control over its processes of distribution, one should not say that money equals speech but that private fortunes equal speech. Our discussions on the role of private money in a democracy cannot be limited to election time. This paper will analyze the political right and economic reality of free speech today by moving beyond jurisprudence and the language of rights.

Suggested Citation

Chaves, Elisabeth, Money's Been Talking: How Citizens United v. FEC Obfuscates the View of the Role of Wealth in Our Democracy (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Elisabeth Chaves (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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