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Five Years Since Citizens United: Has FL Seen the Real Impact Yet?

PHOTO: Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case, experts still are examining its effects on elections at all levels. Photo credit: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case, experts still are examining its effects on elections at all levels. Photo credit: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons.
January 21, 2015

MIAMI - Five years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court made a milestone decision in the case of Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The high court reversed a four-decades-old rule prohibiting corporations, associations and labor unions from making unlimited contributions to political campaigns.

There's a common misconception that it was the Citizens United ruling alone that changed election laws, said Robert Jarvis, law professor at Florida's Nova Southeastern University. He said another decision two months later called "Speech Now" in a U.S. District Court of Appeals played an even bigger role.

"That really changed everything because that legalized super-PACs," he said, "and the money that is flowing is really flowing through the super-PACs and not through the corporations and labor unions that was the focus of Citizens United."

Super-PACs are political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money from all forms of donors. Super-PAC money already is believed to have swung one Florida election in 2014, when Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson contributed $5 million of his own money to help defeat a ballot initiative that would have made medical marijuana legal in the state.

Looking ahead to 2016, Jarvis said Citizens United and other related rulings five years ago won't affect the "big race," but he predicted they will impact the smaller ones.

"When you are talking about a national race like the presidency, you have to contribute so much money," he said. "On the other hand, when you are talking about local races and even statewide races, you can move the needle with a reasonable amount of money contributed."

Jarvis said the full effects of the high court's decisions and other rulings will be much clearer after the 2016 presidential election.

Phil Latzman, Public News Service - FL