Policy Analysis No. 724

Move to Defend: The Case against the Constitutional Amendments Seeking to Overturn Citizens United

Three years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It found that Congress lacked the power to prohibit independent spending on electoral speech by corporations. A later lower-court decision, SpeechNow v. Federal Election Commission, applied Citizens United to such spending and related fundraising by individuals. Concerns about the putative political and electoral consequences of the Citizens United decision have fostered several proposals to amend the Constitution. Most simply propose giving Congress unchecked new power over spending on political speech, power that will be certainly abused. The old and new public purposes cited for restricting political spending and speech (preventing corruption, restoring equality, and others) are not persuasive in general and do not justify the breadth of power granted under these amendments.

John Samples is director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute and the author of The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform (University of Chicago Press, 2006), and The Struggle to Limit Government (Cato Institute, 2010).