Law Dictionary

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

U.S. Case Law

legal Definition of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

558 U.S. 50 (2010), held that corporate spending on political communications is protected by the First Amendment. In 2002, Congress passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold Law, a section of which prohibited corporations and labor unions from making expenditures out of their general treasury funds for “electioneering communications,” or speech that supports or opposes a candidate for office. The Supreme Court found that this provision was a ban on protected political speech, violating the First Amendment to the Constitution. The ruling overturned Austin v. Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990) and partially overturned McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), which followed Austin. In overturning Austin, the Court cited two prior cases, Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) and First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978), stating, “We return to the principle established in Buckley and Bellotti that the Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker's corporate identity.” The Court upheld provisions of the Act requiring disclaimers for political advertisements and disclosure to the FEC of spending on electioneering communications.

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