Exploring the Far-reaching Consequences of Citizens United ruling on Campaign Finance

The Citizens United ruling, issued by the United States Supreme Court in 2010, has had far-reaching consequences on the realm of campaign finance. This landmark decision fundamentally altered the landscape of American political expenditures and advertising. In this article, we will delve into the various implications of the Citizens United ruling, exploring its impact on campaign finance, the behavior of political candidates and organizations, and the overall democratic process.

The Citizens United Ruling

The Citizens United ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a conservative non-profit organization, Citizens United, against the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The lawsuit challenged certain provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act, arguing that it violated the First Amendment rights of corporations and unions.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favor of Citizens United, overturning certain provisions of the BCRA. The Court held that the government cannot restrict independent political expenditures by corporations, unions, and other organizations, on the grounds that such restrictions would infringe on their constitutional rights to free speech.

Increased Role of Money in Politics

One of the most significant consequences of the Citizens United ruling is the increased role of money in politics. Before the ruling, corporations and unions were limited in their ability to spend money directly on political campaigns. However, after the decision, these entities were able to channel unlimited funds into political activities, including advertising, advocacy, and support for specific candidates.

This influx of money has had a profound impact on the electoral process, leading to a surge in campaign spending. Super PACs (Political Action Committees) and dark money groups quickly emerged as major players in elections, often pouring millions of dollars into races to support or oppose particular candidates. This increased influence of money in politics has raised concerns about the fairness and integrity of elections, as well as the ability of average citizens to have their voices heard.

Changing Dynamics in Elections

The Citizens United ruling has also altered the dynamics of elections, particularly in terms of candidate behavior and fundraising strategies. With the ability to receive unlimited contributions from corporations and unions, candidates are now under pressure to court these entities for financial support.

Candidates often allocate substantial amounts of time and resources to cultivate relationships with wealthy donors and special interest groups, who can provide significant financial backing. This fundraising focus has sometimes shifted politicians' priorities away from addressing the concerns and needs of ordinary citizens, as they become beholden to the interests of their major donors.

Furthermore, the increase in campaign spending has intensified the pressure on candidates to raise substantial sums of money in order to compete effectively. Often, this necessitates an early start to fundraising efforts and a reliance on wealthy individuals and organizations, potentially favoring candidates with strong connections to financial resources over those with grassroots support.

Erosion of Democracy

Critics argue that the Citizens United ruling has eroded the principles of democracy by allowing excessive corporate and union influence in politics. They argue that the decision grants undue power to those with significant financial resources, enabling them to shape the political landscape to their advantage.

Additionally, opponents of the ruling contend that it tilts the playing field in favor of incumbents and wealthy individuals, making it extremely difficult for newcomers or candidates from less privileged backgrounds to enter the political arena. This entrenches power structures and limits diversity and representation within the democratic system.

Disclosure and Transparency

Another consequence of the Citizens United ruling is the impact on disclosure and transparency in campaign finance. Before the ruling, the BCRA required certain types of organizations to disclose their donors when they made independent expenditures. However, the ruling loosened these requirements, leading to an increase in so-called "dark money" – funds spent on behalf of candidates or issues without disclosing the original source – in political campaigns.

The lack of transparency around these expenditures has raised concerns about potential corruption and the ability to hold politicians accountable. Critics argue that without robust disclosure requirements, it becomes increasingly difficult for voters to understand the true motivations and influences behind political campaigns.

Efforts to Reverse Citizens United

In response to the Citizens United ruling and its perceived negative consequences, various efforts have been made to reverse or mitigate its impacts. One such effort is a proposed constitutional amendment that would explicitly state that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals and that money spent on political campaigns can be regulated.

Some states and cities have also taken steps to address campaign finance issues at the local level. For example, Seattle, Washington, and Maine have implemented publicly financed election systems, which provide public funds to qualifying candidates, reducing their reliance on private donations and the influence of special interest groups.

Additionally, advocacy groups and organizations have focused on grassroots mobilization and public awareness campaigns to draw attention to the impact of money in politics. They argue that by raising awareness and demanding transparency and legislative action, the negative consequences of the Citizens United ruling can be mitigated.


The Citizens United ruling has had profound and wide-ranging implications for campaign finance in the United States. It has increased the role of money in politics, altered the dynamics of elections, and raised concerns about the erosion of democracy and transparency. Efforts to reverse or address the ruling continue to be debated and pursued at various levels of government and by advocacy groups. As the political landscape evolves, the consequences of Citizens United will continue to shape the future of the democratic process.

22 October 2023
Written by John Roche