April 21, 2012

Lawmakers Unite With Activist Groups To Press For Constitutional Amendment On Citizens United

"The Declaration for Democracy" presented at the congressional summit signed by lawmakers and activists. Photo courtesy of People for the American Way

On Wednesday, a group of members of Congress, local and state lawmakers, and activist groups met in a Capitol Visitor Center hearing room to do something unusual for its loftiness: they announced and signed a “declaration for democracy,” pledging their support to an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions on elections.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), himself the author of such an amendment, was one of the first lawmakers to speak:

The U.S. Constitution has served us very well, but when the Supreme Court says, for purposes of the First Amendment, that corporations are people, that writing checks from the company’s bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger. There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by constitutional amendment.

Sanders was joined by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Udall (D-NM), as well as Democratic Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Rush Holt (N.J.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Betty Sutton (Ohio), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Peter Welch (Vt.), and David Cicilline (R.I.). Many have introduced constitutional amendments of their own; all signed on to the declaration and expressed their support for the movement.

Each member echoed Sanders, especially focusing on the momentum building across the country for such an amendment. Hawaii, New Mexico, and this week, Vermont, have all passed resolutions in their state legislatures calling on Congress to overturn Citizens United. They’re joined by over 147 cities nationwide that have passed resolutions. The summit highlighted the Resolutions Week initiative spearheaded by Public Citizen and other organizations, aimed at passing local resolutions the week of June 11.

“We have developing here a grassroots movement,” Udall said.

The speakers had nothing but vitriol for Citizens United, which Schumer derided as the “worst [Supreme Court] decision since Plessy v. Ferguson,” which was the 1896 ruling that supported “separate but equal” racial segregation.

The members noted that passing this 28th amendment requires commitment from citizens and activist groups:

“With this vehicle, we are going to organize America and all Americans are central to that success,” said Ellison. “We need people to take personal responsibility…this has to be a mass action.”

The members of Congress were followed by speakers representing activist groups including Public Citizen, Free Speech for People, People for the American Way, and the Center for Media and Democracy, as well as activists and local legislators from Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, and Vermont.

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  • samiinh

    Did any republicans sign the pledge?

    • Hawkvet1

      I think maybe a couple have…what difference does it make? Your (and all of ours) signature on a petition is what matters. Enough of us standing up for it, to get at least two-thirds of states to adopt it, is required to make an amendment legal. That’s what counts.

  • Judd45

    Will the Republicans support the amendment?

    • Paul

      When the Vermont state legislature voted on it, it was along party lines, Democrats for, Republicans against. Gee I wonder why.

    • eps62

      No, they like Citizens United. All for the 1%, their favorites. Nothing for the people or the 99%.

  • Hopefully, the amendment would not just invalidate Citizens United, but would also affirmatively eliminate all special interest money from all elections.

    • I’m with you on that sentiment. Invalidating Citizens United does the equivalent of the recent passage of the STOCK Act – move the needle on the scale of corruption while upholding systemic corruption. I agree that we need to eliminate the influence of all money from all elections.

      • Hawkvet1

        That is the ultimate goal; this is the first step, to establish controls on how much influence big money can have in elections and other processes.

      • larryka

        That is exactly why an amendment is so dangerous – it will play right into the hands of a plutocratic Court by not just “upholding” but constitutionalizing “systemic corruption.” What was an illegitimate power grab by the Court usurping Congress’ powers, easily remedied by ordinary legislation stripping the Court of power over election finance anti-corruption laws, will become a source of power for the Court to continue setting the terms by which money subverts democracy.
        This is one of the most idiotic misinformed ideas to come along in many decades.

        • Cjw

          what???? Please explain how an amendment will eliminate our exisiting constitutional control of money in politics and institutionalize corruption when the court says we have no right to limit corporate speech BECAUSE of the 1st amendment PROTECTS corporate speech. Are you a CEO at a fortune 500 company? Corporate speech = corporate money in politics = corruption. Its that simple in my opinion

        • Cjw

          the flip side of your argument is we may not want the supreme to have limited powers on this issue. If an amendment isnt done and we limit their power, as you suggest by using article III section 2, then another campaign finance issue could emerge (due to a lack of constitution clarity) and the supreme court couldnt weigh in. in fact, you would be giving congress unchecked power, contrary to the intent of the consitution to have checks and balances. now, in comparison, if an amendment is enacted and applied improperly, according to 1st amendment or new amendment, it would be great to have them weigh in… that is their role. what is the draw back if an amendment is written effectively?

    • Kevin Gershom Sicard

      Here’s my rough idea of how a proposed amendment could accomplish what you suggest.

      Only United States citizens as defined in the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States have the legal right to donate, give, sell or otherwise supply resources to a campaign for a candidate or other issue such as referendums, initiatives etc… that appear on a ballot that they can legally fill out. Any organization whose purpose is or engages in, in whole or in part activities to influence the outcome of an election such as to defeat or elect a candidate or other issue may only accept resources from U.S. citizens who have a legal right to vote for said candidate or issue.

      No U.S. citizen shall take, receive or otherwise accept any resource from any individual or other type of legal entity for the purpose of then supplying said resource in whole or in part to any political campaign or effort to influence an election in which they can legally vote. The transfer of any type of resource to a U.S. citizen for the purpose that said U.S. citizen then uses said resource to influence an election in which they can legal vote is prohibited.

      Violation of this amendment by any flesh and blood individual shall result in a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In the event that any other type of entity, such as corporations, trusts, foundations, etc. violates any provision in this amendment it shall be considered dissolved as of the day of the violation and all its gross assets as of the day of the violation or upon conviction, whichever is greater, shall be transferred to the state government in which it was incorporated and all its debts as of the day of the violation or day of conviction whichever is greater shall be the responsibility of its owners.

      What do you think?

    • larryka

      True. But any amendment will do more harm than good by handing over to the Supreme Court the authority to exploit all the loopholes inevitable in the foolish attempt to enact campaign finance legislation through a constitutional amendment.
      If these politicians had a clue or were serious they would know that all that is necessary is a simple statute by majority vote stripping the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to review campaign finance laws under its First Amendment money=speech ruling. Art III Sec 2 of the Constitution makes an amendment unnecessary. These hypocrital beneficiaries of the money in politics system should read the Constitution before they try to amend it.
      http://www.opednews.com/articles/Reversing-Citizens-United-by-Larry-Kachimba-120112-189.html

      • Cjw

        It is possible to clarify the intent of the constitution through an amendment. That is why amendments are enacted. Dont be so paranoid! It isnt easy to pass an amendment for a reason. breathe everything will be ok.

  • Kevin Gershom Sicard

    It’s about time. Here’s my rough idea of how a proposed amendment could read:

    Only United States citizens as defined in the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States have the legal right to donate, give, sell or otherwise supply resources to a campaign for a candidate or other issue such as referendums, initiatives etc… that appear on a ballot that they can legally fill out. Any organization whose purpose is or engages in, in whole or in part activities to influence the outcome of an election such as to defeat or elect a candidate or other issue may only accept resources from U.S. citizens who have a legal right to vote for said candidate or issue.

    No U.S. citizen shall take, receive or otherwise accept any resource from any individual or other type of legal entity for the purpose of then supplying said resource in whole or in part to any political campaign or effort to influence an election in which they can legally vote. The transfer of any type of resource to a U.S. citizen for the purpose that said U.S. citizen then uses said resource to influence an election in which they can legal vote is prohibited.

    Violation of this amendment by any flesh and blood individual shall result in a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In the event that any other type of entity, such as corporations, trusts, foundations, etc. violates any provision in this amendment it shall be considered dissolved as of the day of the violation and all its gross assets as of the day of the violation or upon conviction, whichever is greater, shall be transferred to the state government in which it was incorporated and all its debts as of the day of the violation or day of conviction whichever is greater shall be the responsibility of its owners.

    What do you think?

    • CatKinNY

      I LOVE the punitive parts! How would it effect something like the NRDC or the Sierra Club, both of which sometime send out newsletters that let you know how individual congress people voted on a piece of legislation that is environmentally sensitive? The point of the newsletters are to influence voters who care about the environment; the NRA and Grover Norquist do the same thing. Would such ‘educational’ material be effected?

  • Johnyank

    is Alec influncing our supreme court ?

    • Okp Kpkp

      Good question. I would have to say yes. It’s amazing the big corps fleeing like they did. Are others still leaving?

    • CatKinNY

      Well, the Koch brothers have hosted both Thomas and Scalia at numerous high ticket events where they are paid large speaking fees, housed, wined, dined, and taken golfing, hunting and fishing with some of America’s wealthiest right wingers, all of whom are tied to ALEC, directly, or indirectly. Ginny Thomas works for an non profit that is funded by Koch Industries, so you do the math.

  • Stan Shore

    Corporations are only part of the problem. What about the disproportionate influence of extremely wealthy individuals on the electoral process? I believe that an amendment mandating publicly financed elections is a much more comprehensive solution to the problem of money in politics. Banning corporate wealth is not enough.

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  • Don Sherrid

    Get money out of politics!

  • McCracken

    Now that’s taking back OUR GOVERNMENT. THANK YOU

  • Public financing is the only answer. Air time should be free, commercials should be banned.
    As long as there are no limits, Oligarchs like the Koch Boys can use their Billion$ to buy stooges like Walker.

  • Altavilla38

    All media loves this law because of the billions it brings into their coffers. You will never see the media supporting public financing and free commercials.

    • Hatshepsut

      The only real solution is to have publicly funded elections, as recommended by Glacklin, and restricted to one month (or some other reasonable time period) prior to the election. All private moneys should be excluded. But of course it won’t pass. So a compromise like the one the liberal politicians are proposing is rational. As for the Congress’s authority under Art. III, section 3, to restrict SC jurisdiction, all of the Constitution means “what the SC says it means.” The Supremes can interpret that law out of existence. And this court is likely to do just that. The only real solution is to change the composition of the court as in FDR’s administration. And the only way to do that is to elect a liberal President. But of course no nominee can be elected now unless s/he has the billions necessary to wage a multi-year campaign i.e. the status quo. I suggest we all get behind the proposal made by the few liberals left in Congress who are willing to sponsor it.

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