In 2008, a court case was filed by the conservative group, Citizens United. They wanted to air a 90 minute movie attacking then Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, during primaries. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) determined the movie to be a campaign advertisement. According to the Federal law, Citizens United had to identify the financier for a political ad before it could air. They declined to release the financier’s name(s) so it was not allowed to air. Federal courts upheld this decision.
This set up the Supreme Court case in 2010: Citizens United vs. the FEC. In a shock wave ruling, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of overturning the lower court’s decision. The ruling stated that individuals are guaranteed a first amendment right even in campaigns. The Federal government could no longer limit corporate influence in elections through donations to campaigns.
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This ruling had profound repercussions which effectually allowed campaign contributions from corporations to be unlimited. The anonymous donors bear no responsibility for negative ads. This allowed for hundreds of millions of dollars to be raised by Republicans during the 2010 midterm election. The funds were considered a way to victory for Republican candidates in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Conservative activists have continued to attempt to use this ruling to further deregulate the campaign finance system.
In 2015, End Citizens United was created to lead efforts to reverse the Citizens United ruling. They are aligned directly with the Democratic Party. End Citizens United uses grassroots funding as a sort of counterbalance to the corporate cash being raised by the Republican Party. These funds are used to focus state level efforts to reform campaign finance laws. The ultimate goal of End Citizens United is to help encourage a constitutional amendment which will define first amendment rights are reserved for individuals.
This is a two step process which starts with supporting the candidates’ efforts to overturn the Citizens United ruling. End Citizens United concentrates on Democratic Party candidates because the Republican Party as a whole does not support ending the Citizens United ruling. They use grassroots fundraising through digital platforms that allow for collecting massive amounts of money. This money is poured into the campaign system. People working at the lower levels feed the national fundraising system while they continue to help fund activism locally.
For more information about End Citizens United, just click here.