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5 Years After 'Citizens United,' Wealthy Individuals Are Biggest Beneficiaries

A new report examines the 2010 Citizens United ruling and its effects on campaign spending.

January 15, 2015

At the time of 2010's Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court and its detractors focused on the case’s impact on for-profit corporations’ election spending. Five years later, a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law finds that some of the most troubling changes brought on by the ruling can be found elsewhere.  From a tiny club of mega-donors sponsoring candidates like race horses, to the proliferation of dark money groups, to crumbling limits on direct contributions, the impacts of Citizens United are reverberating across the election system.

“Thanks to the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence, a tiny sliver of Americans now wield more power than at any time since Watergate,” wrote author Daniel Weiner. “This is perhaps the most troubling result of Citizens United: In a time of historic wealth inequality, the decision has helped reinforce the growing sense that our democracy primarily serves the interests of the wealthy few, and that democratic participation for the vast majority of our citizens is of relatively little value.”

The report examines the Court’s rationale for its Citizens United ruling, and the aftermath, including lesser-known legacies like the “trampling of shareholder and employee rights” that is the increase in dark money election spending by publicly held corporations. Anticipating the next five years, it concludes that the American public’s disapproval of the outside spending the decision unleashed, and of their elected officials, makes legislative and regulatory solutions more likely, even if the court itself does not reverse the decision.

Click here to read the full report, Citizens United Five Years Later.

separate report this week from the Brennan Center quantified the rise in outside spending in competitive Senate races post-Citizens United.

Click here to read more about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292–8381 or