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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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Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to reference his upcoming role in President Trump's impeachment trial when he wrote: "We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity and dispatch."

Roberts gets all sorts of blowback for labeling civic ed as democracy’s cure

Normally, the annual report from the nation's chief justice doesn't receive much attention. But John Roberts' relatively short missive released on New Year's Day has set off, if not a firestorm, then at least a conflagration of response. And it's all over the map.

Roberts, who last year devoted his report to the treatment of law clerks, focused this year on the role the court plays in promoting civic education. He argues that "we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside."

To which many liberal commentators have shouted: "Hypocrite!" Others see a no-so-subtle brushback pitch aimed at President Trump.

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There hasn't been a constitutional convention since the framers drew up the governing documents. One segment of the good-government movement wants another gathering, but only to address the campaign finance system.

Inside the messy fight over strategy among campaign finance reformers

Marty Wulfe opened his inbox one day this fall and found an unsettling email from an old friend.

It was a dire warning from the Maryland chapter of Common Cause: Special interests in his state are pushing a "dangerous" proposal for a second constitutional convention.

But Wulfe himself was one of those special interests, because he's a board member of Get Money Out – Maryland. The organization is lobbying the General Assembly to have the state join five others calling for a convention to consider changing the Constitution to allow Congress and state legislatures to rein in money in politics.

While he and other Get Money Out leaders "had a good laugh at being labeled a special interest group," said Wulfe (who views himself as a big fan of Common Cause), the opposition from one of the most venerable voices for democracy reform is no laughing matter. Instead, the rift highlights one of the most impassioned arguments these days in the world of good-government advocacy.

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