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Five Years After Citizens United: We Need a Constitutional Amendment More Than Ever

Jan. 21, 2015

Five Years After Citizens United: We Need a Constitutional Amendment More Than Ever

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Brought Out-of-Control Spending, Super PACs, Dark Money Groups

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Voices across the country are decrying the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision today at rallies, marches, movie showings and lobby days to mark the ruling’s fifth anniversary.

The nationwide events highlight growing momentum for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, which gave corporations and the wealthy the green light to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.

Events included a rally in a downtown park in Washington, D.C., to highlight the biggest dark money spender in the 2014 midterms – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; a press conference on Capitol Hill in which more than a dozen congressional lawmakers introduced measures designed to curb the influence of money in politics; lobby days in Albany, N.Y., and Olympia, Wash.; and a march in New Hampshire. Other events included showings of the movie “Pay 2 Play” in Tulsa, Okla., and Tucson, Ariz.; a rally at the Savannah, Ga., Chamber of Commerce and a house party in Savage, Minn.

“The American people understand the corruption of the political system and its consequences,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, which has been pushing for five years for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and spearheaded the Washington, D.C., rally. “Five years after the Supreme Court handed down the abomination known as Citizens United, we know that our country will not be able to address the great challenges it faces – from putting people to work and raising wages to providing health care to all, from reducing wealth inequality to averting catastrophic climate change, and much more – without ending corporate and super-rich dominance of our elections.”

Here’s what five years since the court ruling has brought:

  • Record spending in elections – $4 billion on the 2014 midterms.
  • The advent of super PACs, which can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals.
  • The use of dark money groups – trade associations and nonprofit groups set up to funnel money into elections without having to disclose their donors.
  • An increase in the use of super PACs and other groups to support a single candidate. Single-candidate super PACs represented 45 percent of all super PACs that spent at least $100,000 during the 2014 election cycle.
  • A dramatic increase in the amount of spending by groups not affiliated with campaigns. In 80 percent of competitive 2014 races, outside spenders outspent the candidates — sometimes by more than double.

Citizens United also brought a positive thing: a grassroots movement that is sweeping the country, demanding the court ruling be overturned with a constitutional amendment. Multiple polls show that the problem of money in politics now is a hot-button issue.

“Americans realize that money in politics is corrosive to democracy, that it enables corporations and the wealthy to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens and makes elected officials more beholden than ever to the outside interests that helped get them elected,” Weissman said. Consider:

  • Fifty-four U.S. senators voted in the fall to support an amendment.
  • More than 5 million people have signed petitions supporting an amendment.
  • Sixteen states (PDF) (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia have supported a constitutional amendment. To indicate support, state legislatures either approved a resolution or signed a letter, or voters approved a ballot measure.
  • More than 600 cities and towns have backed an amendment.

The constitutional amendment considered last year by the Senate would enable the government 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.

Rallies around the country

Here are some of the key rallies on Jan. 21:

  • Washington, D.C.: Hundreds will rally in the park between the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to shine a light on the fact that the Chamber is the biggest secret spender in elections. Speakers will explain how corporate political spending influences a range of issues that affect Americans.
  • Augusta, Maine: Hundreds will deliver more than 80,000 petition signatures needed to qualify a clean elections initiative for the ballot.
  • Los Angeles: Activists will participate in a March for Democracy from Los Angeles City Hall to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and drop a banner over the 110 Freeway at rush hour.
  • New York City: The makers of the Pay 2 Play documentary will unravel their street-sized Monopoly board at 3:30 p.m. in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
  • San Francisco: A march for democracy will be kicked off by the inspirational Khafre Jay, a hiphop artist for change. Speakers at the rally include Tom Ammiano, San Francisco’s inspirational, progressive leader; Gayle McLaughlin, former Richmond mayor who stood up to Chevron and won; David Braun, with Californians Against Fracking; and Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.
  • Olympia, Washington: Citizens will hold a lobby day to call for Washington state to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

“A constitutional amendment would help to guard the First Amendment rights of all American citizens to be heard in our elections and in government overall,” Weissman said. We urge policymakers to support a constitutional amendment to reestablish the core meaning of democracy: rule by the people.”