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June 3, 2014

Today’s Hearing: A Historic Step Forward to Re-Establishing People’s Authority to Curb Campaign Spending

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Today’s hearing is a historic step forward to adopting the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment will re-establish the authority of We the People, acting through Congress and the states, to regulate and limit campaign spending.

In so doing, the amendment will undo nearly 40 years of restrictive U.S. Supreme Court rulings. It will overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and its misguided holding that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as real, live, breathing human beings to influence election outcomes. It will overturn McCutcheon v. FEC, with its holding that the only justification for limits on campaign donations is to prevent criminal bribery. And it will overturn Buckley v. Valeo – the case holding that “money equals speech” and imposing Supreme Court-made constitutional obstacles to imposing limits on what can be spent on elections.

It will help restore the most basic understanding of democracy: that the people – not the corporations, not the plutocrats – rule.

The amendment will restore common sense to our election spending jurisprudence. With the amendment, we will be able to pass laws ending corporate spending on elections, eliminating or curbing outside donations, imposing limits on overall election spending and adopting mandatory systems of small donor and public financing.

The amendment will strengthen and restore the First Amendment, which has been weakened and distorted by the Supreme Court. The 28th Amendment will amplify the voices of the People, and make their speech meaningful.

As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted in his McCutcheon dissent, “Speech does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, political communication seeks to secure government action.” And, he explained, “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.”

In this way, a campaign spending system dominated by a handful of super-rich and corporate donors does devastating injury to First Amendment values. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has entrenched exactly such a system. Consider just these few facts about our current campaign spending system:

  • Just 100 people were responsible for more than half the money contributed to super PACs (more than $600 million) in the 2012 elections.

  • Approximately 600 people hit the limit on total campaign contributions struck down by McCutcheon – amounting to $123,000 in the 2012 elections. That’s the effective universe of people who have expanded ability to donate to candidates under McCutcheon.

  • While the top .01 percent of the population secure about 4 percent of the nation’s total income, they are responsible for more than 40 percent of total campaign contributions.

The American people know that our democracy is failing them. They desperately want action. They believe passionately in ensuring that their speech – not that of any one select group, but the speech of We the People – matters. They are clamoring for the 28th Amendment.

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