Barbie is Right, Money is Not Speech

Public Citizen
5 min readAug 17, 2023

Talyce Murray | National Field Organizer for Public Citizen

Barbie has a great day every day … that money is kept out of politics. And as Supreme Court Barbie once said “Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.”

Everyone is rightfully celebrating “Barbie” becoming the first movie directed by a woman to earn $1 billion at the box office. And we are celebrating because anything that makes $1 billion dollars is something that we should pay attention to.

But would it still be exciting if I told you that in 2020, more than $1 billion of secret money, formally called dark money, was spent to influence our federal elections? Or what about the $1.4 billion spent by “gray- money” groups in 2022? Yeah, a billion just got a whole lot less exciting and way more concerning.

Have you ever wondered what might have caused elected officials who once supported a specific issue to suddenly begin voting against it? Or how a previously unheard of issue becomes the center of our political conversations? Or even, how everyone you know believes in the need for a particular policy, and yet that thing never seems to pass at the state or federal level?

A lot of these questions can be traced back to an unprecedented amount of money in today’s political system. And in a time of historic voter apathy, and nearly 200 bills designed to make accessing the ballot that much harder, it creates an environment where the elected official is more beholden than ever to corporations rather than the American people.

These corporate dollars can be traced back to numerous popular issues that just seemingly can’t pass. From the day Citizens United v FEC went into effect, we saw a backslide in the progress made on critical issues ranging from: environmental justice, accessible healthcare, paid family leave, and gun reform. It became a race: whose lobby could raise the most money and no longer what issue could mobilize the most voters.

Before I keep going, let me break down the difference between political donations/gray-money/and secret money, ’cause it’s pretty significant.

Political donations are financial contributions to political campaigns, organizations that disclose that they participate in election related activities. A key part of this is that it is all public record. Any person can look it up and see who donated to who and how much.

Gray-money, comes from political groups or PACs that only partially disclose their donors. This could look a number of ways — ranging from knowing the number of donors but not who, or knowing the final source of the money but not the original donor. Either way, the American public has no way of truly knowing where money comes from or for what purpose was it given.

Secret Money is money raised for the purpose of influencing elections by non-profit organizations that are not required to disclose the identities of their donors. These funds are nearly impossible to be traced.

What Does Campaign Finance Reform Look Like While Citizens United v FEC Remains the Law of the Land?

Luckily all hope is not lost. There are a number of ways state legislatures can implement incremental campaign finance reform, while not violating Citizens United v FEC.

There are three main avenues that state legislatures can enact campaign finance reform that would have immediate effect for voters:

  1. Transparency and disclosure policies: These policies are considered the easiest to pass as it does not change how a candidate and/or elected official receives money. Rather, it simplifies the process for voters to find out who is donating. An example can be found in Arizona where they recently passed an Original Source Disclosure bill. This bill requires that PACs and corporations participating in elections disclose where all their donations came from. Not just the final source.
  2. Public financing: When billions are flooded into the electoral process by corporations, a way to help level the playing field is to create more resources for voters to use to influence the electoral process. Public financing programs create ways for the donations of everyday voters to have a stronger impact. An example is: donor match programs where if a voter donated $10 the candidate would get $60, lessening the need for the candidate to turn to corporate money to run a successful campaign.
  3. Overturning the 2010 Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v FEC: Our political system and the ability for voters to hold elected officials accountable changed dramatically the day SCOTUS allowed money to become speech. The best and most complete way to put power back into the hands of everyday people is to overturn this anti-voter ruling.

Organizations like End Citizens United and Public Citizen are working in states across the country to enact a Constitutional Amendment overturning the ruling. It begs the question, until it can be overturned, is there any way to rein in the ridiculous runaway spending?

How Can Individuals Hold Companies Accountable?

Everyday people are not powerless awaiting political change. In addition to voicing support for the state policies outlined above, there are a number of actions you can take today, to make progress on campaign finance policies across the country.

  • Do your research. Corporations, and the elected officials that they benefit, count on everyday Americans not understanding or taking the time to learn more about the financial aspect of our elections. The more you know, the better you can hold your elected officials accountable.
  • To find information regarding who is funding your federal election officials, go to:
  • With corporate money fueling the political system, it costs more than ever to run a successful campaign. One of the best methods to fight back against this system is to support and donate to candidates that have committed to not accepting corporate or PAC money. Because they will not be indebted to these corporations while in office, they are more likely to pass laws to improve our system and protect everyday people’s needs.
  • We encourage you to speak publicly about it. Post on your social media. Send emails to your elected officials. Letting them know that this is an issue that people care about and will be following is one of the best ways to keep up the pressure and ensure change happens!

Okay Barbies, this summer, our friends came together to save Barbieland and celebrate the power of the collective. This fall, let’s come together to tell corporations and Congress that we are watching them. ’Cause if the Barbie’s can reform Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House back into a Dream House, we can return our political system to the power of the people.



Public Citizen

Public Citizen champions the public interest in the halls of power. We fight to ensure that government works for the people — not big corporations.