June 14, 2012
New Jersey State Senate Considers Resolution for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United, Rein in Corporate Campaign Spending
New Jersey Residents at Hearing Applaud Senate, Call on Assembly to Hear Concurrent Resolution as Resolutions Week Heats Up
TRENTON, N.J. – A crowd of people from across New Jersey gathered today both outside and inside the State House to show support for two resolutions moving their way through the New Jersey State Legislature. The resolutions call on Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblymember Herb Conaway have introduced legislative resolutions SR47 and AR86. Both expressstrong opposition to the CitizensUnitedruling – which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to influence elections – and call on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would make it clear that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was meant to protect the free speech of natural people, not corporations.
Activists working with Public Citizen and the American Dream Movement (a national coalition of organizations) met earlier in the year with Van Drew and Conaway to encourage them to respond to the growing national movement focused on getting corporate money out of elections.
“Citizens United was the nail in the coffin. It is clear that unprecedented amounts of money, coming from wealthy corporations and individuals, has flooded our electoral system and drowned out the regular constituents’ voices,” said Susannah Newman, grassroots coordinator for the American Dream Movement in Cape May County, N.J. “People feel powerless and cynical. To combat this, we must reach across party lines and embrace our right to amend the Constitution to defend our democracy.”
In the wake of Citizens United, spending by outside groups has reached record levels – more than $144 million has been spent thus far in the 2012 elections. And a record amount of money – some estimate as much as $8 billion – is likely to be spent overall on this year’s federal election cycle, with a large amount of that coming from corporations.
Residents from across New Jersey gathered at the State House in Trenton to show support for both resolutions. At a hearing on SR47, members of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee considered the resolution and received testimony from resolution supporters.
“Right, left and center, people tell me they oppose the Citizens United decision. It drowns out the voice of middle- and working-class Americans. Who’s the winner here?” said Mark Doenges, a New Jersey resident working with Public Citizen and the American Dream Movement. “We are very happy to see Sen. Van Drew taking a leadership role on this issue in New Jersey. Voters across the country need elected officials to do likewise to put our democracy back into the hands of the people.”
Activists also attended a subsequent meeting of the Assembly State Government Committee, where they urged assembly members to follow the lead of their Senate colleagues and schedule a hearing for AR86 before the Legislature adjourns for the summer.
If the New Jersey Legislature advances these resolutions and passes them, the state will join a growing number of states that have passed or introduced resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Five states – Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont – have backed an amendment, and resolutions are poised for passage in California and Massachusetts this month.
Cities and towns are joining the push for an amendment as well. Resolutions Week – an initiative launched by Public Citizen and partner organizations to pass local resolutions nationwide that call for a constitutional amendment – started June 11 and has focused on state and local actions. Throughout the week, activists and organizations across the country have been holding events to showcase their local resolution efforts and victories.
Already, more than 219 local governments have passed resolutions supporting an amendment since the court’s decision in 2010. And since preparations for Resolutions Week began in early March 2012, local resolutions have been passed at a rate of roughly one or more a day. This initiative is part of a growing movement to rid elections of corporate cash by overturning the Supreme Court’s decision.
“These local and state efforts show how people can reclaim the people’s rights by pursuing a constitutional amendment to ensure our democracy isn’t for sale,” said Mark Hays, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “They are pulling out all the stops to make it clear democracy should be for people, not corporations and superwealthy political donors.”