Campaign Finance Reform

Campaign Finance Reform

The ACLU believes that the system of electing candidates to federal office badly needs repair. And we will continue to advocate reform of the current system — such as our longstanding support for full public financing — but in doing so we will stress fidelity to the principles protected by the First Amendment with the goal of expanding, not limiting, political speech.

We have actively participated in every significant policy debate in the long history of campaign finance reform whether through our lobbying or litigation arms. We also have long advocated for heightened transparency in government. While we opposed important aspects of campaign finance laws over the decades, we also have a long and proud history in support of transparency in the campaign funding context. We have long supported disclosure of direct contributions to candidates, as well as to political action committees. Because independent expenditures have a direct impact on candidate elections, we have also supported disclosure of such expenditures. We have also supported heightened disclosure in connection with federal lobbying activities and have been a leader in the effort to broaden transparency standards under the Freedom of Information Act for government as a whole. At the same time, while advocating for disclosure, we have fought to protect the speech and privacy rights of those whose participation in the political process posed no threat of corruption or appearance of corruption.

Additional Resources

The ACLU and Citizens United (2012 Statement)

A legitimate concern over the influence of "big money" in politics has led some to propose a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision. The ACLU will firmly oppose any constitutional amendment that would limit the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

ACLU Statement on Campaign Finance Reform (2001 Press Release)

The American Civil Liberties Union has been studying, litigating and lobbying on the constitutional and practical implications of federal campaign finance laws for more than a quarter century. For all of those years, while we prevailed repeatedly in the courts, we fought an uphill battle in the court of public opinion and ours was a lonely voice in the progressive community.

ACLU Position on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2009 Resource)

This case before the Supreme Court had to do with whether a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which bars unions and corporations (both for-profit and non-profit) from engaging in "electioneering communications," violated the First Amendment and should be struck down as facially unconstitutional. The ACLU consistently took the position that section 203 was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it permits the suppression of core political speech, and the amicus brief that we filed in the case took that position again.

Testimony of Former ACLU President Nadine Strossen Before the House (2001 Resource)

For almost 40 years, the ACLU has been at the forefront of the effort to insure that campaign finance reform is consistent with the free speech and democratic values embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution. For that entire period of time, we have insisted that campaign finance laws must serve two vital goals: protecting freedom of political speech and association and expanding political opportunity and participation.

ACLU Board Addresses Campaign Finance Policy (2010 Press Release)

ACLU Campaign Finance Reform Fact Sheet (2002 Resource)

ACLU Statement on Campaign Finance Reform (2001 Press Release)

Draft Executive Order on Disclosure of Political Contributions by Federal (2011 PDF)

Testimony of Executive Director Ira Glasser on Campaign Finance Reform Legislation Before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration (2000 Resource)

Campaign Contribution Limits (2010 Press Release)

Supreme Court Affirms ACLU Position that Vermont Campaign Finance Measure Would Limit Free Speech (2006 Press Release)

Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC: Rethinking Campaign Contribution Limits (2000 Resource)

DISCLOSE ACT Passed By House Today Compromises Free Speech (2010 Press Release)

Letter to the Senate in Opposition to the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 (2001 Resource)

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