Moral Low Ground

Economy

‘The Moral High Ground’: Senate Democrats Propose Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ Ruling

In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations are people, money is free speech and that as such, corporations were entitled to spend as much “free speech” as they liked on influencing the outcome of American elections. It was a devastating blow to American democracy– the decision came just as the 2010 election season was heating up, and special interest spending soared as a result of the ruling. The implications of Citizens United were staggering. The American citizen, the real people who are supposed to be protected and championed by our Constitution and our courts, were already marginalized by ever-growing power of corporations and other special interests. Citizens United was nothing less than one of the final nails in the coffin of our democracy and shocking evidence that our nation was fast becoming a corporatocracy.

Udall tries to retake control of campaign spending.

Now, nearly two years after the dangerous ruling, a group of Senate Democrats has proposed a constitutional amendment that would regain control over campaign spending, the Huffington Post reports. The measure, introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), doesn’t directly deal with the Citizens United assertion that corporations are people and thus entitled to free speech rights. What the amendment would do is add to the Constitution language that empowers Congress and individual states to regulate campaign contributions and spending.

“Letting this go unchecked is a threat to our democracy. Campaigns should be about the best ideas, not the biggest checkbooks,” Udall said at a press conference introducing the amendment.

The proposed amendment would effectively overturn two odious Supreme Court rulings, Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United. In Buckley, the High Court ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a co-sponsor of the proposed amendment, called it “one of the worst decisions that the Supreme Court has rendered in the last hundred years,” adding that Citizens United was “Buckley on steroids.”

Overturning Citizens United is one of the main objectives of the Occupy Wall Street movement that is sweeping the nation.

“The extent to which money and corporations have taken over the [campaign] process is reflected across our cities in the Occupy movement,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), another co-sponsor of the Udall amendment, said. “It is something we have to do something about if we are going to reclaim American democracy as the shining light to other countries that it has always been.”

The Huffington Post points out that it is “unlikely” that the amendment will even get congressional approval. Conservatives are fiercely opposed to limiting corporate power; after all, Republicans are more beholden to corporate interests than anyone else in Washington. GOP lawmakers wouldn’t even countenance Schumer’s 2010 Disclose Act, which would have required nothing more than disclosure regarding campaign finance.

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