So How Did We Get Into This Mess? Observations on the Legitimacy of Citizens United

Polikoff, Alexander | February 11, 2011

How did the American body politic allow business corporations to threaten members of Congress by saying, credibly, “Do what we want or we’ll bury you!”? On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission interpreted the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to permit corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose their chosen candidates. “[A] lobbyist,” said the front page of the next day’s New York Times, “can now tell any elected official that [if you vote wrong,] my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election.” The headline read, “Lobbies’ New Power: Cross Us, And Our Cash Will Bury You.”