Citizens United decision is reshaping US politics

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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (informally known as the “Citizens United” case) is a Supreme Court case that passed 5-4 in 2010. It allows corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money on political campaigns.

The ruling on this case is still highly controversial, with arguments revolving around the right to freedom of speech stated in the First Amendment and the role of the government in policing corruption and the flow of information.

This article will not discuss the constitutionality of the measure or the Supreme Court decision. Instead, it will focus how Citizens United affects our government and political process.

Before Citizens United, there was a limit on how much money any one person or corporation could spend on a political campaign, giving everyone a relatively equal level of influence. Citizens United creates a loophole that allows corporations called super PACs (political action committees) to raise and spend unlimited quantities of money on political campaigns.

Super PACs influence election results by choosing candidates to back and donating almost limitless funding for media campaigns and support. Wealthy individuals behind the super PACs have far greater influence than the average American.

On the surface this may seem harmless, but it has created an environment where the wealthy are able to buy candidates and elections.

It has become almost impossible for a politician to get elected without a substantial amount of monetary backing. As a result, many politicians have become dependent upon rich donors to run for office.

A politician who is dependent upon the support of a donor has an incentive to make policies that benefit that donor. These policies do not necessarily benefit the larger body of citizens.

Politicians who refuse to do things that are in the best interest of the donor lose their funding and find it very difficult to become re-elected. Though donors may support policies that help the country as a whole, in many cases they use their influence to push for laws, which benefit the wealthy and little else.

Another impact is it is becoming increasingly difficult for voters to find factual information about the candidates because of the sheer quantity of advertising that can be bought.

If enough money is put into promoting a certain position, it is possible to drown out information that expresses any opposing view. This means that ideas (and misinformation) can be advanced through sheer circulation volume rather than merit.

Citizens United has already began to reshape American politics and is wearing away basic rights and democratic principles. The privileged few have been given free reign to buy the politicians and policies of the country and to drown out anyone or anything that opposes them.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission threatens fundamental principles that make America a sustainable democracy and if left in place could spell the end of our country as we know it.

If we live in a system where the privileged few control our elected officials and policy making, are we really free?

Nicholas Wilson is a 2017 graduate of Houghton High School and will be attending Boston College to study political science and economics.