On its face, this sounds just awful—an exclusive democracy for only those who can afford it, all the while not disclosing who is paying for it. This could be the case in American politics, however, the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling (Citizens United) is not the cause of it. To believe otherwise is to give the real culprits a pass. Lack of transparency in federal elections is the fault of Congress and the Republican Party who currently control it. In this article I will highlight how Citizens United is good for transparency in elections.
The ruling stated that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), prohibited the group Citizens United from airing “Hillary the Movie” in the period before an election. This was seen as a suppression of our Constitution’s 1st Amendment free speech protections. Imagine not being able to show a film on YouTube because it was paid for by a corporation or union? Anyone who supports freedom of speech on the internet should abhor this notion. Nevertheless, the BCRA could have done as such.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) was keen on on the rapid convergence of technology and clearly stated how the BCRA could impact blogs and other internet mediums (p. 49). While the Court protected free speech, my article is about how Citizens United was good for the idea of transparency in elections.
The group Citizens United whined to the Court that disclosure of their funders creates a chilling effect. SCOTUS slapped down this claim by stating the group never provided any evidence of retaliation or harassment of its donors—even though Citizens United has been disclosing them for years. (p. 54)
Citizens United moaned that the disclosure at the end of an ad used up precious media time—thus harming speech. SCOTUS didn’t buy this either. They said, “Identification of the source of advertising may be required as a means of disclosure, so that the people will be able to evaluate the arguments to which they are being subjected. At the very least, the disclaimers avoid confusion by making clear that the ads are not funded by a candidate or political party.” (p. 53)
In other words, there is a public interest in disclosing who is paying for political ads.
Here is a final quote from the ruling regarding transparency—and it is a notion I fully embrace;