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How the Citizens United Decision Changed U.S. Political Campaigns (full documentary)

01 Feb 2023
How did the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision change political campaigns in America? In 2012, FRONTLINE and APM’s Marketplace investigated how the controversial ruling was playing out in Montana, an epicenter of the campaign finance debate. (Aired 2012)

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As this documentary, “Big Sky, Big Money,” explored, the Citizens United decision held that political spending is a form of protected speech, and let corporations and unions spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns. But to avoid corruption, the court said the money can't go directly to candidates; it has to go to independent outside groups.

What did that mean in reality? As the 2012 election loomed, correspondent Kai Ryssdal traveled to Montana, then a battleground over campaign finance, and uncovered startling new evidence of outside interest groups’ influence on local campaigns. The documentary raised questions about how secret “dark money” was transforming U.S. politics, looked at a boom in ads made by tax-exempt nonprofits known as 501(c)(4)s — which generally weren’t required to disclose their donors publicly — and probed evidence that appeared to show possible coordination with campaigns.

“Big Sky, Big Money” is a FRONTLINE production with American Public Media’s Marketplace in association with American University’s School of Communications Investigative Reporting Workshop. The writer, producer and director is Rick Young. The correspondent is Kai Ryssdal.

Explore additional reporting on "Big Sky, Big Money" on our website:

#Documentary #CitizensUnited #CampaignFinance

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FRONTLINE is produced at GBH in Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support for FRONTLINE is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Park Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund, with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation, and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen.

Prologue - 00:00
After Citizens United, a Boom in Campaign Spending by Outside Groups - 1:20
A Rare Look Inside a Super PAC - 08:57
‘The Father of Citizens United’ on Secrecy in Campaign Spending - 19:43
Montana Takes on the Supreme Court Over Citizens United - 27:56
Did a 501(c)(4) Group Break the Law? - 39:41
Credits - 51:58
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