Amending the Constitution: Senators Try to Knock Out Citizens United

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

As we continue to wait out the midterm election with one eye on the partisan split, it’s worth turning your other eye, if only very briefly, to look at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposed constitutional amendment — one that would aim to alter campaign financing rules in a major. The Citizens United Supreme Court case has been the landmark campaign funding guideline since it was ruled in 2010. It held that under the first amendment there could be no governmental control of political funding from businesses, unions, and non-profits.

Later, in 2014, the Supreme Court campaign ruling in the McCutcheon case marked another major ruling against caps or contribution limits. The majority opinion said that generalized caps on federal candidates and parties “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activities.” The new Senate motion would alter the Constitution, thereby making said ruling no longer applicable. The amendment is being sponsored  by Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and would put uniform and strict limits in place for elections.

To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections,” reads the joint resolution, outlining funds to be controlled, including contributions to the candidate, contributions against a candidate, nomination contributions, etc. It clearly states that freedom of the press is a separate and unrelated issue, but that both Congress and state government would be able to put legislation in place and enforce it to ensure the equal fiscal footing of elections.

The amendment is an interesting one for a few reasons. It’s likely to remain a visual — a press piece — and would never make it through the House, or even the Senate in all likelihood, but it’s the legislative form of what has become a very familiar argument at this point, and is therefore an interesting concept to consider. Democrats have a well known rhetoric on campaign funding, criticizing Republicans for their dependence on big money, suggesting it makes them over-advantaged opponents and biased in their legislative decisions. Republicans, on the other hand, argue that money does not buy their vote and that Democrats have their own contributors with big wallets leaning their direction — from Hollywood especially. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been one highly vocal Democrats, focusing his fire power on the Koch brothers, oil industry billionaires with a penchant for financially contributing to major GOP campaigns and interests.

It’s too bad that they’re trying to buy America, and it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine,” said Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the Senate floor in an anti-Koch brother speech in February. “Just because you have huge amounts of money you should not be able to run these false misleading ads by the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Charles Koch defended himself in a piece by The Wall Street Journal, saying that, “Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs,” and emphasizing libertarian viewpoints. “The more government tries to control, the greater the disaster, as shown by the current health care debacle … instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination,” he said. Ultimately this latest Amendment in the Senate is likely to be a continued partisan effort to target Republicans for being rich, out of touch with the average American, or corrupt, as midterms campaigns rage all around. Some Congressional races, for example Alaska’s, place a great deal of emphasis on where candidates get their funding from. Republican candidate

Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Republican candidate Dan Sullivan exchanged barbs over outside funding — a major contentious issue in their state. “It’s almost like he’s laundering Harry Reid’s money into Alaska,” said Sullivan, according to The New York Times. “The only guy in this election who’s gotten money from the Koch brothers is Mark Begich,” said Sullivan, later responded to with: “Just because people give me money, Dan, doesn’t mean they control me.” In ways Alaska is a prime exactly for not controlling campaign funding — voters there are actively critical of outside money, forcing candidates to scramble against that negative factor.

Still, many have legitimate and real concerns about the American pathway to power. In discussing a potential pay raise for lawmakers, Representative Jim Moran (D-Va.) brought up financial blockages to political appointments. “I think there’s a legitimate fear that the House is going to be increasingly populated by two types of members,” said Moran to The Washington Post.

“One will be those who come for only a couple of terms before multiplying their salary in the private sector as a result of their service, the other those who are sufficiently independently wealthy for whom our salary is a rounding error of their net worth. We need a diversity of perspectives in the House. The ability to serve in Congress should not be limited to those who don’t have to give any thought to paying out-of-pocket living expenses in D.C.,” said Moran, who spoke openly on the unpopular and ill-timed pay raise issue post shut down, comforted in the knowledge that this is his last term in office. This concept extends to one’s ability to run, to the ability to campaign competitively regardless of family or business connections.

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