10 Years After Citizens United: Political Corruption and Secret Spending Afflict Our Democracy

Protesters stand in front of the US Supreme Court holding a sign that says "Overturn Citizens United".
Anti-Citizens United Supreme Court decision protesters - Washington, DC USA. Photo by B Christopher / Alamy Stock Photo.

Tuesday marks the 10-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, a decision that has led to an explosion in secret spending in our elections, and rigged politics in favor of special interests. 

CLC’s Adav Noti explains the case’s impact in this video.  

America’s broken campaign finance system largely stems from misguided U.S. Supreme Court decisions. But advocates can still protect the voters’ voices by passing reforms such as public financing at the state and local level. 

See our toolkit for reforms activists can fight for in their hometowns. 

At the federal level, advocates should call on Congress to pass legislation like the DISCLOSE Act (included in the For the People Act or H.R. 1 that passed in the House of Representatives), which would require funds passed between multiple entities to be traced back to their original source.

Specifically, organizations spending substantial amounts on election activity would be required to track and publicly report all large political contributions.

For example, if a corporation or a 501(c)(4) organization makes a large contribution to a super PAC, the LLC or 501(c)(4) would be required to report information about where it obtained the funds to make that contribution. 

Read our issue brief detailing campaign finance reforms at the federal and state level. 

In addition, reforming the Federal Election Commission would go a long way in ending corruption in our political system.

While Citizens United struck down restrictions on certain campaign finance spending, many other important anti-corruption measures are still in place, such as laws guaranteeing transparency for political contributions, laws barring corporate-funded super PACs from coordinating with candidates and laws preventing foreign money in U.S. elections to protect the voices of all Americans.

But the FEC, which is the only government agency tasked with overseeing the integrity of our political campaigns, fails to enforce these laws.

If the FEC were to enforce the current laws, we would not see:

  • Illegal foreign spending in elections
  • A lack of transparency around the sources of millions spent in elections
  • Candidate and super PACs working together for an unfair advantage 

Corruption is rampant in our political system today, and Citizens United is only part of the story. Americans can take action now so that every voter has a voice in democratic process – in 2020, and beyond.


Campaign Finance Reform in a Post-Citizens United World