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Protestors gathered outside the Supreme Court on the day, 10 years ago, the Citizens United case was decided.

Five major reflections 10 years after Citizens United

Ten years ago exactly — on Jan. 21, 2010 — the Supreme Court gave the green light to unlimited political expenditures by corporations, labor unions and nonprofit groups. The decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which said curbs on such spending violated the First Amendment, fundamentally changed the way elections are financed today.

A decade later the majority opinion in Citizens United is labeled, more often than any other single thing, as the ultimate antagonist of the democracy reform movement. The ruling has become so infamous it's used as shorthand for a campaign financing system that gives lopsided political advantage to the wealthiest over everyday citizens, including for reasons that have nothing to do with that case. That said, however, the decision has permitted groups that are not affiliated with any candidate or political party to pour almost $4.5 billion into the subsequent campaigns for president and Congress — an astonishing six times the total for all such independent expenditures in the two previous decades.

The 10-year anniversary has campaign finance experts all along the ideological spectrum reflecting on what the decision has meant for American politics, and what changes to laws and regulations might withstand court challenges and limit the impact of Citizens United in the decade ahead — on the assumption the ruling is on the books for at least that much longer.

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The state Supreme Court said it was fair to make ex-felons like Erica Racz (seen registering to vote in January 2019) pay all monetary penalties before regaining the franchise. But it was only an advisory opinion.

Florida top court ruling on felon voting is hardly the final word

Republicans hoping to limit the newly restored voting rights of convicted felons in Florida have won the backing of the state Supreme Court. But it's really just a victory in the court of public opinion, because the justices issued only an advisory opinion Thursday while the real decision is up to the federal courts.

At issue is a law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature last year to implement a state constitutional amendment approved in 2018 with the support of almost two-thirds of the electorate, restoring voting rights to about 1.4 million Floridians with criminal records.

It is the largest single expansion of voting rights in the country since 18-year-olds got the constitutional right to cast ballots half a century ago. But its reach could be sharply limited if Republicans successfully defend the financial curbs they want to impose.

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House Administration Committee

The CEOs of the three biggest voting machine makers beginning their testimony. From left: Tom Burt of Election Systems & Software, John Poulos of Dominion Voting Systems and Julie Mathis of Hart InterCivic.

Top three voting machine makers embrace more federal regulation

Here's something you don't see every day: Executives of three companies agreeing with the suggestion they should be under stronger oversight by Uncle Sam.

But that's exactly what happened Thursday, when representatives of the three companies that make more than 80 percent of the 350,000 voting machines used in the United States testified before Congress.

Just the appearance at one hearing by leaders of three competing businesses — Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Dominion Voting Systems of Denver and Hart InterCivic of Austin, Texas — was in itself historic. Even more unusual was their willingness to embrace tighter federal regulation and oversight ahead of the election, which could provide them with some government cover if the presidential contest is marred by hackers once again.

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Dark money flowing fastest into state judicial races, analysts find

Special-interest groups, many with donors the public never knows about, continued to play an outsized role in the financing of elections for state Supreme Courts across the country, a new analysis finds.

More than $39.7 million was spent on four dozen contests for seats on the top courts in 21 states last year, and 27 percent of the money was contributed by advocacy organizations allowed by state and federal laws to keep secret the identities of their benefactors. The calculation was unveiled Wednesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, which advocates for tougher campaign finance regulation and many other causes on the left side of the democracy reform debate.

By comparison, in no election during the past two decades have these so-called "dark money" organizations accounted for more than 19 percent of all spending in races for Congress.

The lack of donor transparency has the obvious potential to obscure all sorts of conflicts of interest for the justices on state Supreme Courts, who have the final say annually on litigation directing billions of dollars into corporate coffers and consumers' wallets. And, the Brennan Center wrote, it also undermines the public's confidence in state judicial systems maintaining their impartiality.

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