Corporate Political Speech After Citizens United v. FEC

February 19, 2010
US Capitol, Flag waving

Triangle Business Journal 

The Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in Citizens United v. FEC opens the door for corporations and labor unions to make unlimited independent expenditures to advocate for the election or defeat of a federal candidate. The decision was a watershed moment in both First Amendment and campaign finance law.

Prior to the Court’s decision, federal election law limited corporate political expenditures to so-called “issue advertising” that did not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a federal candidate. The law also banned “electioneering communications”—defined as advertisements that merely referred to a federal candidate, were made within 30 days of a primary election or within 60 days of a general election, and were publicly distributed by broadcast, cable, or satellite.

The Supreme Court struck down both of these prohibitions on political speech using a simple, yet fundamental, First Amendment principle: The Government cannot suppress political speech based on the identity of the speaker. 

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