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Jillian Wilson

Period 1

Campaign Finance Reform Laws Meet The First Amendment


The Supreme Court ruled constitutionally in Citizens United vs FEC because the
ruling was protected by the First Amendment, it was based on that of Buckley vs Valeo,
and it overturned sections of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) that
challenged the political speech of corporations and unions. The First Amendment
guarantees freedom of speech to all citizens of the United States, a right that many other
countries do not grant their citizens. Buckley vs Valeo ruled that money is a form of
political speech, which is protected in the First Amendment. The BCRA denied
corporations and unions the ability to release any content that could influence the
decisions of voters 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election, and
banned uncontrolled investments of corporations and unions to political parties. The
section of the law banning corporations and unions from contributing money to political
parties was deemed unconstitutional because corporations and unions are collections of
individual people who share similar opinions and beliefs, similar to the factions that
Constitution drafter and fourth United States President James Madison argued should be
heard under the republican principle. Therefore, the ruling of the Supreme Court in this
case was made constitutionally according to the principles of republican government and
freedom of speech.

The First Amendment, which gives American citizens the right to freedom of
religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, is something
that we take for granted in this country. This extremely important amendment to our
Constitution was used to aid the Supreme Court's final ruling in the case of Citizens

Jillian Wilson
Period 1
United vs the FEC. The BCRA, written by Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold in
2002, said that corporations and unions cannot donate money to political parties for the
benefit of their candidate's campaign. However, the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights
reads, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or
the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress
of grievances" (C). Furthermore, the majority opinion of Citizens United vs the FEC
concluded that, "...By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit
and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the
public and advising voters on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests" (I).
The opinion also said that "The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these
categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of
the political speech" (I). This means that the BCRA contained parts that do not
correspond with the First Amendment, making them unconstitutional.

The ruling of Citizens United vs the FEC was partially based partly on the ruling
of another Supreme Court case about corporations and money, Buckley vs Valeo. In the
ruling for that case, the justice said, "Advocacy of the election or defeat of candidates for
federal office is no less entitled to protection under the First Amendment than the
discussion of political policy generally..." (F). The ruling of Buckley vs Valeo categorized
corporate political spending as political speech, meaning that, "The First Amendment
affords the broadest possible protection to such political expression in order to assure
unfettered exchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired
by the people..." (F). Under the ruling of Buckley, Citizens United had the legal right to

Jillian Wilson
Period 1
produce content intended to influence voters because the content would be an
independent expenditure, since no political party would have contributed any money to
the production of said influential content.

The BCRA contains sections that were written to eliminate corporate campaign
spending and electioneering communications, but the ruling of the Citizens United case
overturned these sections. After the ruling, A Wall Street Journal reporter wrote, "Justice
Kennedy emphasized that laws designed to control money in politics often bleed into
censorship, and that this often violates First Amendment principles" (M). The writers of
the BCRA were concerned about the influence huge corporations were having in the
American political system, just as James Madison was concerned about the role factions
would play in the new American government. In Federalist #10, he wrote that, "...If a
faction consists of less that a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle,
which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote" (A). This means
that if a group, in this case a corporation, has opinions that threaten American politics,
then the majority will silence that group or corporation. On the other hand, if the
government is doing something that the majority deems to be threatening, then it is the
right of the majority to do something about it. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter
to a friend that, "The people are the only sensors of their governors: and even their errors
will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution" (B). This means that it is
the right and the duty of the people to point out the wrongdoings of their government so
that they may be fixed, either by law or by court case.

Jillian Wilson
Period 1
The censoring of governors has been demonstrated many times since Jefferson
wrote that letter, the case of Citizens United being one of them. If, according to a
government decided by the people and for the people, a corporation or institution has no
voice, then being a large group of individual people with shared or similar opinions and
beliefs, it is up to them to make sure that they get a voice. Based on the First Amendment
and the ruling of Buckley vs Valeo and other cases of similar nature, the Supreme Court
ruled constitutionally using the principles of republican government and freedom of
speech. An additional document that would further prove the constitutional ruling of
Citizens United vs the FEC would be the sections of the BCRA that were overturned by
this case and previous campaign finance reform cases.