Citizens United and the Persistent Myth of Corruption, 11 Years Later

January 21, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •    •  

Eleven years ago today, the United States Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling, a major victory for free speech and the First Amendment, held that the government cannot restrict corporations, associations, and labor unions from making independent expenditures in support of or opposition to candidates.

In addition to securing a huge win for political expression, the decision has been a lightning rod for anti-speech activists. Critics of the Court’s ruling predicted that allowing nonprofits, businesses, and labor unions to independently voice their support or opposition to candidates would lead to increased corruption.

Last year, the Institute for Free Speech sought to learn the truth. Did the Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations and unions can speak without limit and contribute unlimited amounts to finance independent political expenditures increase the amount of corruption in our democracy?

Former IFS Research Intern Alec Greven authored a report last September comparing independent expenditures before and after Citizens United to public corruption prosecutions over the same period. It examined both for a federal relationship and a relationship in states most affected by the decision.

Greven’s analysis concluded that fears of increased corruption have no basis in reality.

“The Citizens United decision is not correlated to an increase in corruption. As independent expenditures rapidly rose on the national level, public corruption prosecutions declined. A similar trend is observed in the states. If you isolate states that were most affected by Citizens United, the data show that those states experienced a steeper decline in corruption,” the report explains.

On this 11-year anniversary of the case, let’s take a moment to separate truth from fiction. More speech and less corruption is something we should all celebrate.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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