U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Tom Udall today introduced a constitutional amendment to grant Congress the authority to regulate the campaign finance system. Among other important reforms, the amendment would allow Congress to correct the controversial Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance that has the effect of allowing virtually unlimited corporate and special interest spending in elections. Joining Udall and Bennet as original cosponsors of the legislation are Sens. Tom Harkin, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jeff Merkley.
In 2010, the Supreme Court concluded in a highly contentious 5-4 ruling that corporations deserve the same free speech protections as individual Americans, enabling them to spend freely from their corporate treasuries on campaign advertising.
"The Supreme Court's reversal of its own direction in the Citizens United decision and other recent cases has had a major effect on our election system," Bennet said. "State legislatures and Congress now may not be allowed to approve even small regulations to our campaign finance system. This proposal would bring some badly needed stability to an area of law that has been thrown off course by the new direction the Court has taken."
"As we head into another election year, we are about to see unprecedented amounts of money spent on efforts to influence the outcome of our elections. With the Supreme Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to address the root cause of this problem is to give Congress clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system," Udall said.
"By limiting the influence of big money in politics, elections can be more about the voters and their voices, not big money donors and their deep pockets," said Harkin. "We need to have a campaign finance structure that limits the influence of the special interests and restores confidence in our democracy. This amendment goes to the heart of that effort."
"I am proud to stand with Sens. Udall and Bennet in advancing this constitutional amendment because it will enable Congress to enact common sense reforms that cannot be overturned by the Supreme Court. Congress and many state legislatures have already passed laws that would begin to reign in the influence of corporate and special interest money. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has recently seen fit to ignore its own precedent and overturn those laws. These decisions jeopardize core principles of our democracy and threaten to give corporations and special interests an outsized influence on our elections." Durbin said.
"By equating campaign spending with free speech, the Supreme Court has essentially ruled that the wealthiest among us should have the loudest voices in our elections," said Schumer. "The American public is fed up with the outsize influence that money has on our politics. This constitutional amendment will restore the balance to our system that the American people expect in a democracy. It is time to return our elections to the hands of everyday citizens rather than the special interests."
"The flawed Citizens United decision allows corporations, including international corporations, to use their vast wealth to drown out the voices of the American people, and it allows them to do so anonymously from behind shell organizations," said Whitehouse. "We must ensure that government works for the American people, not powerful corporations. The constitutional amendment we are introducing today will undo the Citizens United decision, putting people in charge as the Founders of our country intended."
"It was President Lincoln who described the genius of American democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people'. We office holders work for the people. They elect us. They are in charge. Citizens United puts in motion the opposite: it moves us towards government by and for the powerful. As such, it is a dagger poised at the heart of American democracy," said Merkley. "If we are going to preserve a government responsive to its citizens, we need commonsense reforms that give the American people a full voice. This Constitutional Amendment is essential for the people to be heard."
The constitutional amendment would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation.
The proposed amendment:
- Authorizes Congress to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns and allow states to regulate such spending at their level;
- Includes the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, such as those from Super PACs, made in support of or opposition to candidates;
- Would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead would allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges.