Research Outline

Citizens United Supreme Court Ruling


To determine how much money has entered US political campaigns since the Citizens United decision. This information will give insight into the effect of the Citizens United decision.

Early Findings

Outcome and Impact of Citizens United Decision

  • On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed a century-old finance restriction in the case "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission." This decision "enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections."
  • According to this article, a significant outcome of the court ruling has been the creation of super political action committees (super PACs). These "are organizations that raise and spend money for campaigns that support or oppose political candidates, legislation, or ballot initiatives."
  • Prior to the ruling, traditional PACs had contribution limits "both in terms of what they can receive from individuals and what they can give to candidates." After the ruling, "outside groups could accept unlimited contributions from both individual donors and corporations" as long as this was not given directly to the candidates. These outside groups were labeled as super PACs and were "permitted to spend money on independently produced ads and on other communications that promote or attack specific candidates."
  • While super PACs are required to disclose their donors, these donors can include "dark money groups." Dark money is defined as "election-related spending where the source is secret." This often comes from "nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors."

Spending by PACs

Total Spending by Outside Sources

Cost of Federal Elections

Summary of Findings

  • During the initial hour of research, we focused on understanding the Citizens United decision and what changes this ruling brought about.
  • It was possible to determine the effect of the decision and show in monetary terms how outside contributions have increased.
  • Also, the cost of federal elections has been provided for both congressional and presidential elections.