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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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Super PAC

A form of political actions committee that is permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against a candidate. They must report contributions and spending — known as independent expenditures — to the Federal Election Commission.

Read more about super PACs.

SpeechNow.org v. FEC

The case generating a ruling in 2010, by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down on First Amendment grounds the federal contribution limits individuals could make to super PACs, politically active not-for-profits, unions and other groups that make independent expenditures.

Read more about SpeechNow.org v. FEC

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