The Missing Theory of Representation in Citizens United

Restrictions on campaign speech violate the First Amendment unless they are aimed at preventing either corruption or the appearance of corruption. The definition of corruption is thus central to campaign finance jurisprudence. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), the Supreme Court defined corruption narrowly, to include a quid pro quo exchange and nothing else. In this Note, I examine the viability of that definition by combining two previously dissociated bodies of literature—one exploring the Court’s varying definitions of corruption in campaign finance cases and the other addressing the proper role of a representative in a democracy. I argue that, although any viable definition of corruption must be based on an underlying theory of representation, no commonly accepted theory of representation underlies the narrow quid pro quo definition adopted in Citizens United. Thus, I suggest the Court take up another campaign finance case soon, so that it can either (1) articulate a theory of representation that justifies its narrow quid pro quo definition of corruption or (2) reconsider that definition.