Citizens United 10 Years Later: Sen. Sarbanes, Shaheen, Udall, Good Government Groups Outline How the Court’s Ruling Has Changed the Political Landscape

On a call with reporters today, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.-3), along with national pro-democracy organizations People For the American Way, Public Citizen, End Citizens United Action Fund, Democracy 21, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, US PIRG, and Common Cause, raised the alarm about the continuing harm caused by the 10-year-old Citizens United ruling and related court decisions. Speakers on the call also highlighted the growth of a pro-reform movement focusing on the scourge of money in politics, and sounded a hopeful note about progress toward reclaiming our democracy.

"Last year, House Democrats swiftly passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a once-in-a-generation reform package to fight back against the torrent of big money in politics unleashed by Citizens United,” said Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes, who assembled H.R. 1 and led its passage through the U.S. House of Representatives. “By leading with H.R. 1, House Democrats made a clear commitment to put the public’s interests ahead of special interests and to restore trust, transparency and integrity in Washington.”

“Ten years after the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United to open the floodgates for the wealthy few to drown out the voices of the American people, our democracy is now in crisis,” Sen. Tom Udall said. “Because of the stranglehold of big money on our politics, our government is not answering to the will of the people – as Americans grow increasingly frustrated waiting for their elected officials to act on their priorities, like gun violence prevention, climate change and health care reform. That’s why I introduced the Democracy For All Amendment and the For The People Act with my Democratic colleagues in the Senate – to put the people back in charge. We must end the influence that corporations, the super-wealthy and foreign interests wield over our elections, and put our democracy back where it belongs: in the hands of the American people.”

“For the past ten years, the Citizens United decision has allowed special interest groups to flood our political system with dark money and drown out the voices of the American people,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “Millions of dollars from a shadow group were poured into New Hampshire to undermine bipartisan efforts in Congress to address a significant problem impacting middle-class families: surprise medical billing. This dishonest campaign is Exhibit A in how broken our campaign finance system is and why I’ll keep fighting for the Democracy for All Amendment – to give the power back to the people.”

"After ten years, it's clear the Citizens United decision has transformed our democracy for the worse. Fortunately, opportunities for real reform exist at every level of government. Cities like Baltimore and Washington D.C and states like New York and Maine are leading the charge to empower small donors and bring the power back to the people," said Joseph Ready, democracy program director, US PIRG.

“Citizens United is the defining judicial decision of the New Gilded Age. It both reflects and worsens the rigged political system that infuriates Americans of all political stripes – and the staggering wealth and income inequality that is the product of the rigged system,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Our new research shows that the top 25 donors are responsible for nearly half of all individual contributions to super PACs since Citizens United was handed down in 2010, and that super PAC contributions from the top donating majority-white zip codes outpace those from the top donating majority-minority zip codes by more than 10-1.” Public Citizen has released two new related research reports, “Oligarch Overload” and “Corporations United.”

"In the decade since the Supreme Court handed down the appalling ruling in Citizens United, we have endured a relentless assault by corporations and wealthy special interests on a government that should be of, by and for the people," said Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program for People For the American Way. "The massive spending on our elections by these interests – overpowering the voices of everyday Americans – have led to devastating impacts that the people must live with every day – from racial inequity, to environmental destruction, to our struggle to provide people with affordable health care to much, much more."

"Polls show that overwhelming majorities of the American public, up to 80 percent, want reforms to address the problem of money in politics," said Rio Tazewell, PFAW senior campaign manager. "Those numbers include majorities of both Republicans and Democrats. The movement in support of reforms such as the Democracy For All Amendment has taken off in the last few years and the momentum for ratification is truly building." On the call, Tazewell announced the release of a new PFAW paper, "Ten Years Since Citizens United: The Growth of a Movement."

"Citizens United overturned more than a century of precedent on corporate campaign spending, shifting the political balance decisively in favor of the wealthiest interests in our society. A decade on, the Court’s own assurances about the impact of its decision – from the transparency of the new spending it unleashed to the role of foreign money in our elections – have proven hollow. Fortunately, there are proven solutions to lift up the voices of everyday Americans and protect the integrity of the political process, many of which are part of H.R.1, the For the People Act. Ultimately, it is up to our elected leaders to restore the promise of a democracy that works for everyone," said Dan Weiner, deputy director of the election reform program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

“H.R. 1, legislation passed in the House last year, which has 47 Senate sponsors, would create a new, small-donor based public financing system for federal candidates that would: empower ordinary Americans by making their small contributions much more important to candidates; dramatically reduce the influence of big money funders by freeing candidates to run for office without the need for their financial support; create opportunities for new candidates to run competitive races; and allow officeholders to spend far less time raising money and far more time representing their constituents,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.

"The Citizens United decision has given wealthy donors and corporations veto power over issues of importance to most Americans, whether that's addressing gun violence, lowering the cost of prescription drugs or protecting our planet's future. It's time for Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on bills like the For the People Act so we can end the dominance of big money in politics and get Washington working for everyday people," said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United Action Fund.

“Faced with a Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United that ignored the realities of money in politics, Americans from coast-to-coast took matters into their own hands and have passed sweeping democracy reforms at the state and local level,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “The momentum of reform that stemmed from Citizens United has not waned, it continues to grow. New reforms have already been introduced in 2020 and we will continue to work to pass them in order to ensure that every American has a voice in our democracy – not just those with the deepest pockets.”