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Senate Vote on Amendment: A Historic Leap Forward for Democracy

Sept. 11, 2014

Senate Vote on Amendment: A Historic Leap Forward for Democracy

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Today, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted in favor of a constitutional amendment (S.J. Res. 19) to get money out of politics; however, it was not enough votes to pass the amendment.

Today’s historic vote will be remembered as an important moment in the democracy movement’s successful effort to win a constitutional amendment to rescue our elections, our politics and our country from the scourge of Big Money dominance.

We owe thanks to the Senate champions who brought forward the legislation, fought for a vote and explained so eloquently on the Senate floor why our country desperately needs the Democracy for All Amendment. But today’s achievement is much more a testament to the growing grassroots movement that refuses to cede control of our nation to a relative handful of corporations and the super-rich.

It is that movement that refused to accept the perverse logic of Citizens United and other misguided U.S. Supreme Court decisions related to money and politics, and that refused to be deterred by a cynical Beltway conventional wisdom that said that it would be impossible to win a constitutional amendment – and pointless even to try.

The democracy movement is empowered by a passion for our country and its best ideals, and the recognition of a few simple truths:

  • Not only are corporations not people, but granting corporations – which exist for the purpose of making money, and are granted by We the People with special privileges for that purpose – the right to influence elections inevitably means subordinating the popular will to the profit-driven wishes of giant artificial entities.
  • While everyone has a right to speak, no one should be given civic and political superpowers by virtue of their personal wealth. And a democracy cannot work if wealth buys you political power, influence and, effectively, votes. Hence, money is not speech.
  • The campaign funding landscape – already bleak before 2010 – is intolerable post-Citizens United. Outside money, including hundreds of millions in “dark money” from secret sources, is stealing control of election debates from candidates and transferring it to unaccountable organizations funded by billionaires and mega-corporations.
  • Big Money dominance of our elections is preventing America from making progress in addressing its greatest challenges: catastrophic climate change and rising inequality; the need to provide health care for all, adopt a people-first trade policy, create jobs and rein in Wall Street; and much more.
  • The American people – conservative, progressive, moderate, Republican, Democratic, Independent – are absolutely furious with the Big Money dominance of our elections and overwhelmingly support a comprehensive political reform agenda that prioritizes a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy.

The choice before us remains: plutocracy or democracy. The plutocrats’ power is evident in their bombardment of the airwaves with hundreds of thousands of negative ads – as well as in their ability to win policy debates in Washington, even against the overwhelming objection of the American people, as regularly occurs.

But now the democracy movement has started to evidence its power as well: 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns have supported an amendment, either by resolution or ballot initiative; millions of citizens have signed petitions for an amendment; tens of thousands of people have called congressional offices demanding an amendment; hundreds of demonstrations have taken place throughout the country; and, today, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted for the Democracy for All Amendment.

It is true that this vote occurred on party lines. However, not long ago, only a handful of Democrats supported the amendment. That changed, in part because the Big Money control has become so dire, but primarily because the grassroots demand has grown so strong.

For now, Republicans in the Senate – including those who understand the problem with the current finance system and who almost surely believe in the merits of the amendment – have refused to support the Democracy for All Amendment, in no small part out of deference to their party leader. But that situation will not last long. We know that Republican voters strongly favor an amendment, and the day is not long off when constituent pressure will prod Republican elected officials to respond.

We celebrate today’s vote as an unexpected leap forward for the democracy movement. The day is not far off when we will be celebrating the enactment of the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.