Citizens United: What the Supreme Court's decision on campaign money means for you

Thursday's Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case will mean more political ads and, possibly, more moderates in Congress.

Lauren Victoria Burke/AP
Bob Edgar (right), president of Common Cause, criticized the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday in the Citizens United case. The court made it easier for corporations, unions, and other organizations to finance political campaigns.

With its 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United campaign-finance case, the Supreme Court on Thursday gave big corporations a green light to spend more money on political campaigns.

What does the court's decision mean for you? 1) More political ads and 2) possibly, more moderates in Congress.

Voters may want to scream about No. 1 and cheer No. 2. The last thing most Americans want is more political advertising, when they're already barraged by campaign messages the last two weeks of any important election.

But look at political contributions as an investor would. Who are corporations (or unions or any other special interest, for that matter) going to back: mavericks or mainstream candidates?

They'll back the mainstream, because those candidates have the best chance of winning.

That may sound counterintuitive. Campaign-finance reform was supposed to curb the influence of big interests in defense of the little guy. But somehow, big business and other special interests still seem to have Congress's ear. The bigger impact of Thursday's ruling may be to help moderate candidates at the expense of more partisan ones.

The logic goes this way: When contributions are limited, big money can't flow as easily to the middle. Partisans on either side have a better chance to compete. Now that the Supreme Court has acted, look for more money to move to the middle.

This represents a blow to partisan activists. On the Republican side, corporations will naturally favor the big business side of the party at the expense of social conservatives. On the Democratic side, the move may be more muted: business-friendly and labor-friendly and environment-friendly candidates will probably get the nod.

This may lessen partisanship on Capitol Hill. Think Mike Mansfield or Howard Baker, senators of an earlier era who crossed the aisle when they believed in the cause. But it's also less representative.

Libertarians will find it harder to follow the footsteps of Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas. Liberal independents may not move into high office as Sen. Bernard Sanders (I) of Vermont has.

Fewer of them means fewer voices to challenge the status quo – not just of business but of how all of Washington works.

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