Citizens United and Campaign Finance Law, Summed Up in a Chart

Created: October 08, 2010 14:14 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision represented a major change to campaign finance law. I’ve been tracking the story of how some corporations (both for- and non-profit) and PACs have been taking advantage of the new legal landscape, looking in particular at the spending of “Super PACs,” which can now receive unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals but must disclose their donors, and Section 501(c) nonprofits, which have always been allowed to receive unlimited contributions but previously were restricted to talking about issues as opposed to advocating directly for candidates.

If you’re more of a visual learner, however, you’ll be happy to see that The New York Times has published a story that includes a fun video and also the following chart that breaks down campaign finance law in the post-Citizens United world:

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Interestingly enough, some issues, like the accurate and complete disclosure of political donations to campaign ads, were a big problem even before the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. the FEC. The recent court case opened up the possibility that corporations could spend directly on ad campaigns on behalf of candidates, but most were already well acquainted with the shell game of giving to nonprofit corporations with like-minded views in order to hide their own political activity. The difference now, however, is that these nonprofits are allowed to get involved directly in the game of advocating for candidates, as long as it doesn’t become their primary mission.

Because it’s become the focus of so much popular fear and resentment, however, Citizens United has become an useful rallying point for those seeking to repair the campaign finance disclosure system through legislation like the DISCLOSE Act.