Did Citizens United release a flood of corporate money for independent expenditures?

It almost certainly did not do that. It is impossible to know for sure because the explosion of independent expenditures after Citizens United included a large amount of untraceable dark money.

It is very unlikely, though, that there was anywhere near enough money to be called a flood. The alarm expressed after a decision as controversial as Citizens United—most notably by President Obama in his 2010 State of the Union speech—may be understandable, but political scientists were not surprised when the flood of corporate independent expenditures did not appear.19

Corporations did finance most of the sham issue ads of the 1990s and early 2000s, which were express advocacy in all but name. But that was money given directly to the parties, which was another way of buying access to members of Congress; and both parties got most of their soft money from business, so it was also bipartisan.

It is true that corporate officers are largely Republican and conservative in their individual contributions. But the contributions they make through their corporate PACs are predictably pragmatic, suggesting that corporations will not soon spend much money on partisan independent expenditures.20

But the absence of a flood of corporate money does not mean there was none at all, which seems to be what some supporters of Citizens United believe. In an attempt to counter reformers' claims about the radical nature of the decision, they point to disclosure reports filed with the FEC, which show that few corporations report making independent expenditures or contributing to groups that do. But in the long history of corporate money in elections, corporations have never been eager to report their contributions and expenditures.

As a Business Roundtable vice president explained in 2013, "90- something percent of corporate CEOs" would not make openly partisan expenditures for fear of offending customers.21 Target Corporation is a case in point. In 2010, Target gave $150,000 to an independent spending PAC that backed a Republican candidate who opposed gay marriage. While that was not a major point in his campaign, it was enough for marriage equality advocates to launch very public demonstrations against and boycotts of Target stores.22

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