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April 30, 2014

Constitutional Amendment Needed Now to Reestablish Rule by the People; Scheduled Senate Vote Applauded

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules & Administration held a hearing, “Dollars and Sense,” exploring ways lawmakers can deal with “dark money” – undisclosed money funneled through trade associations and other groups to influence elections – which exploded after the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruling. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other decisions at the hearing. U.S Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he would push for a vote on S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment that would restore power to Congress and the states to control campaign spending.

This country desperately needs a constitutional amendment to reestablish the core meaning of democracy: rule by the people.

In Citizens United and McCutcheon, but also in decisions that precede them, including Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned the First Amendment upside down, striking down campaign spending limits that enable regular people to have an effective voice in the political process. As Justice Breyer noted in his McCutcheon dissent, Big Money in politics “derails the essential speech-to-government-action tie. Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”

Today, Senate leaders announced plans to schedule a vote on S.J. Res. 19, which calls for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United, McCutcheon and Buckley. Crucially, that amendment establishes that it aims to advance the objective of “advanc[ing] the fundamental principle of political equality for all.”

Here’s one indicator of how vital that principle is: Depending on how one counts, only 600 or 1,200 people ran up against the aggregate contribution limits overturned by McCutcheon. That’s the universe of people who will gain a greater ability to make campaign contributions as a result of that decision, to the detriment of the rest of the nation’s citizens. Here’s another indicator: The top .01 percent of the population was responsible for roughly 40 percent of campaign expenditures in 2012.

Public Citizen enthusiastically thanks Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others who have led on this issue, and we pledge our strongest support for winning approval of the amendment. We may not win two-thirds passage this year, but the day is not far off when we will.

With the vote, every senator will be required to take a stand: Do you side with the forces of dark money or the American people? Are you for plutocracy or democracy?

The time is ripe for this scheduled vote. As a matter of both practical politics and constitutional jurisprudence, the McCutcheon decision was another devastating blow to the foundation of our democracy. As evidenced most recently with more than 150 demonstrations in 41 states that erupted in protest of McCutcheon on the day it was handed down, the American people are not just disgusted, they are angry and demanding far-reaching action to return control of our elections and our country to We, the People.


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