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Sept. 8, 2014

Historic U.S. Senate Vote; Democracy for All Amendment Is Common Sense

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Public Citizen is co-hosting a rally at 3 p.m. EDT today, Sept. 8, at the Senate Swamp to call attention to the need for a constitutional amendment and deliver more than three million petitions in support of an amendment. Featured speakers will be U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.); and U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

The promise of American democracy is colliding with the unpleasant reality of an emerging American plutocracy.

Fueled by – and reinforcing – staggering inequalities of wealth, income and power, the American political system is betraying Lincoln’s great pledge that our country would be one of, by and for the people.

Thanks to a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, most notably Citizens United, the super-rich and giant corporations are pouring money into our elections at record levels. Outside money – hundreds of millions in “dark money,” from sources undisclosed – are determining the contours of elections across the country, often stealing control of campaign narratives from candidates themselves. Degrading and depressing negative ads fill the airwaves, heightening citizen cynicism and frustration. Meanwhile, candidates scramble to raise the millions they can from the narrow band of wealthy people who fund most campaigns.

We need a fundamental fix, which is why it is so vital to enact the Democracy for All Amendment, which would overturn Citizens United and other decisions, and restore our democracy.

Tom Paine entitled his great pamphlet that helped inspire our country’s fight for independence, “Common Sense.” It’s time now for a return to common sense and assertion of political independence from the super-rich and giant corporations.

Fed up with the campaign finance system, which they recognize as profoundly corrupt, the American people overwhelmingly support a constitutional amendment, by at least a 2-1 to margin, with strong support coming from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Sixteen states have passed resolutions or the equivalent calling for an amendment, as have more than 550 cities and towns. More than 3 million people have signed petitions for an amendment. The Democracy for All Amendment, the American people realize, is common sense.

It’s common sense that we can’t maintain a democracy if our politicians are indebted to a tiny class of political donors. Only approximately 600 people in 2012 hit the maximum aggregate contribution held unconstitutional by this year’s Supreme Court McCutcheon decision.

It’s common sense not to permit a handful billionaires and giant corporations to overwhelm campaigns with secret money never traced back to its source.

It’s common sense that advancing First Amendment values means ensuring that everyone’s voice counts. Equally, it’s common sense that imposing reasonable restraints on the political giving by the wealthy does not diminish the First Amendment.

It’s common sense that corporations are not people and should not be afforded the same political speech rights as real, live, breathing human beings.

And it’s common sense that we will fail to solve the greatest challenges of our time – catastrophic climate change, rising inequality, health care for all and much more – unless we repair our campaign finance system and our democracy.

Tonight or later this week, the U.S. Senate will hold a historic vote on the Democracy for All Amendment. If this is to be a vote on the merits, and on what senators believe in their hearts, the amendment will pass with far more than the two-thirds majority required.

Even if the amendment does not succeed in crossing this threshold, it will receive well over majority support, an outcome unfathomable just a few years ago. The momentum of history is on the side of common sense, on the side of restoring a government of, by and for the people – and the day is not long off not just when the Senate will pass the Democracy for All Amendment, but when it will be enacted as the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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