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Newsletter: Has Citizens United Undermined Democracy?

Has Citizens United Undermined Democracy?


Francesca Procaccini

Assistant Professor of Law

at Vanderbilt University Law School



Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

Professor of Law at Stetson University



Floyd Abrams

Senior Counsel

at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP



Eric Wang

Partner at The Gober Group; pro bono Senior Fellow at the Institute for Free Speech



John Donvan

Host and Moderator-in-Chief



This week:

  • New episode: Did the landmark Supreme Court case hurt democracy or protect free speech?
  • A closer look at the cost of congressional and presidential elections
  • Upcoming livestream: Taylor Swift and the Ethics of Wealth
  • Your Sunday reading list



In a high-stakes election year, we ask: Has Citizens United Undermined Democracy?

This week, as part of the Newt and Jo Minow Debate Series recorded live at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, we look at whether the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which permitted an increase of money in politics by corporations, unions, and other organizations is hurting democracy or promoting free speech.

The question is more urgent than ever. According to a recent report, the 2024 election cycle is projected to cost over ten billion dollars in political expenditures across broadcast, cable, radio, satellite, and digital media.

The team arguing “no” to the question says it allows dark money and outsized spending into the political arena and enabled a small group of wealthy donors to overshadow the political impact of the average voter.

Those arguing “yes” to the question say it protects the First Amendment rights of corporations and unions to the same extent as individual speech and permits increased transparency and accountability in political spending.

Our debaters are all legal luminaries who focus on First Amendment law, campaign finance law, and free speech (one even argued the pro-Citizens United case before the Supreme Court).

Don’t miss our world-class analysis of this timely issue. We thank the Minow family and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law for their generous support.

Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and our YouTube channel. As always, let us know what you think.



Super PACs and a Boom in Outside Spending





Has Citizens United Undermined Democracy?


YES: Francesca Procaccini

“We have a liberal democracy, which means we protect individual rights and the right to equally participate in the political process to equally elect our representatives, influence politics, and hold our government accountable… Citizens United opened the door to unlimited amounts of dark money to manipulate our political process. Money allows for unequal influence, it crowds out the average citizen’s voice, and it permits some mega donors to have outsized access to our elected officials. Citizens United undermined democracy. ”


NO: Floyd Abrams

“Citizens United… was in good spirit, for understandable reasons, one which called upon the suppression of speech. No speech is more important to democracy than advocacy of voting for or against a candidate running for president. And yet, that speech could not appear because of legislation adopted in the name of democracy, but which wound up stifling free speech. We know what has happened and what hasn’t happened now. The speech that people were afraid of, the big money corporate speech, did not occur. It was a myth.”


YES: Ciara Torres-Spellicsy

“One of the negative impacts of Citizens United has been a misreading of the opinion. Even though the opinion itself is pro-disclosure, unfortunately that is not how the decision has been understood by many Americans. Rather, they read Citizens United as 100 percent deregulatory. They mistake Citizens United as blessing dark money. Dark money is money that is spent in politics where the average voter has no idea where that money came from. And there’s been over two billion dollars of dark money in federal elections alone since Citizens United.”


NO: Eric Wang

“We’re told that Citizens United is bad for democracy because it unleashed the floodgates for campaign spending. If money had such outsized influence, we would see Jeb Bush [win] at least one primary. We would see Mike Bloomberg, who spent a billion dollars of his own money, have won at least one primary. We would have seen Ron DeSantis win at least one primary, who had $100 million or more at his disposal with his Super PAC. The overriding thing that decides elections is candidate quality, and that’s something you can’t buy with money.”



Join Us For Our Upcoming Live Virtual Debate

Live Virtual Debate: Does Taylor Swift Deserve Her Billion Dollar Fortune?

When: Tuesday March 5th at 12:00 PM ET

Where: Virtual livestream

Arguing YES: Jessica Flanigan, Political Philosopher and Chair in Ethics and Democratic Values at the University of Richmond

Arguing NO: Ingrid Robeyns, Chair in Ethics of Institutions at Utrecht University’s Ethics Institute; Author of “Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth”




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