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Why Should We Care?
Citizens United says that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising. The Court declared more than 30 years ago that spending money is a form of speech, and that corporations had a First Amendment right to speak that way. But there were still limits, particularly in the area of political speech, where there is a century-old tradition of controlling the influence of corporations on the electoral process.
Citizens United takes away those limits.
According to the Court, if human beings are allowed an unrestricted right to free speech, then corporations must have the same right. The Court overturned a key provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law that prohibited corporate- and union-funded campaign advertising within 90 days of a federal election. Now, corporations can spend unlimited money influencing our elections right up to Election Day. More than $5 billion was spent on the 2008 campaigns with the McCain-Feingold law in place. If that seems like a lot of money, wait for the next election cycle.
Citizens United was a case about a corporation spending money to advertise and air a movie that amounted to a hit piece on Hilary Clinton. There are now no limits on the funding of that sort of negative campaign material. Any candidate who doesn’t toe the corporate line can look forward to a flood of opposition cash.
The "Humanity" of Corporations
Just as Dred Scott was only an extension of existing law, Citizens United merely extends law that has been developing for a long time. But, like Dred Scott, the Court’s conclusion makes clear to most people that the law is wrong. To say that a corporation with billions to spend on advertising is no different from a human being with one voice and one vote goes beyond what a large majority of Americans are willing to accept.
But this is the logical conclusion of the doctrine of corporate personhood, a legal theory that has been developing since the 1800s. Until 1819 the law was clear that corporations had no constitutional rights. In that year, the Court held for the first time that the Constitution applied to corporations.