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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

    Brief Fact Summary. Citizens United created a documentary aimed at Senator Clinton during the 2008 race, and ran ads to urge others to order it on-demand to watch.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Congress may not ban political speech based on a speaker’s corporate identity.

    Facts. The Citizens United is a nonprofit organization with a 12 million budget. Some of its funding comes from for-profit corporations. This organization created a 90 minute documentary named Hillary, which names Hillary Clinton and shows interview and political commentators all who urged voters to not vote for Hillary. The organization first released the movie in theaters and then on DVD. Afterwards the organization produced two 10-second ads and one 30-second ad promoting viewers to order the documentary on-demand. A negative statement about Hillary is made and then information on how to find the website is given. This movie is basically a feature-length negative advertisement against Hillary.

    Issue. Whether section 441b of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act BCRA which criminalizes ads produced by corporations that expressly advocate for or against a candidate within 30 days of the primary elections and within 60 days of the general election is constitutional.

    Held.  No. The Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity. Corporations have long been held to enjoy Constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech just like an individual, regardless of their status of for-profit or non-profit. The government does not have any sufficient interest in the complete ban of such advertisement. The court discusses how there has been a constant struggle between the Judiciary and Congress to prevent corruption during election season, and protecting Freedom of Speech rights afforded to persons and corporations. The court also mentions that some corporations are Media corporations made to create news. Banning all corporations from political speech is too broad and the constitution will not allow it. The Government to support this ban, states the compelling interest is in preventing the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregation of wealth that are accumulated with the help of corporate form. That can not be sufficient to state that corporation’s rights of Freedom of Speech should be taken from it, simply because it has the funds to support its ideas.

    Dissent. The distinction between an individual and corporation is significant. Congress throughout history has put limitation on corporate spending, and this should not change now. This court states corporations do not need PAC’s, but they helps protect shareholders from engaging in business with a corporation without the fear of possibility supporting a political agenda they do not agree with.

    Discussion. Previously, corporations were required to form a separate account, called PAC’s, from which it could use the funds for its political agendas. This court states that is should not matter whether a corporation has a PAC or not, Freedom of Speech protects its ability to spend in accordance with those agenda’s.


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