Nearly two years ago, President Obama caused a splash by expressing support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Asked during the online forum what he was going to do to “end the corrupting influence of money in politics,” President Obama put the spotlight on the movement for a constitutional amendment by explicitly mentioning the amendment strategy:
Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it).
A new book released this week by POLITICO reporter Ken Vogel shows that President Obama had been privately discussing an amendment months before his public comment in August 2012. Vogel’s book describes President Obama telling Democratic donors in February of that year:
“Now, I taught constitutional law…I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it.”
The fact that President Obama was sharing support for an amendment even earlier than previously known underscores the importance of the issue to our nation’s president. In addition to President Obama, 44 U.S. senators, 123 U.S. representatives, and more than 1,700 state legislators have gone on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
The day after Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics was considered at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Udall joined People For the American Way activists, supporters, and staff members on a member telebriefing to discuss the amendment and what Americans can do to support it.
Sen. Udall noted in his introduction that together we have come a long way in the movement to get big money out of politics, due in part to the work of People For the American Way. He said that in the last few years, our nation’s campaign finance laws have come under increasing attack. There are only two ways, Sen. Udall said, to have lasting reform on this issue: either the Court can reverse itself, or we can amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Sen. Udall pointed out that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts.
When asked by a participant to address the false claim pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and other right-wing politicians and activists that this amendment is an attack on the First Amendment, Sen. Udall explained: “This is about restoring the First Amendment so it applies equally to all Americans.” He pointed out that our access to constitutional rights and our ability to participate in the democratic process should not be based on our net worth.
Sen. Udall urged activists on the call to voice their support at every opportunity they have. Specifically, he encouraged advocates to get a copy of the amendment and urge their local officials to support it by passing resolutions. Despite the lengthy process of amending the Constitution, Sen. Udall asked participants not to be discouraged; with a strong grassroots movement, he said, we can make it happen.
PFAW executive vice president Marge Baker also fielded questions from participants on the call. She urged activists to connect campaign finance reform to the issues most important to them and their communities, whether that’s fighting for health and safety on the job, defending the environment, or protecting voting rights. On voting rights, Baker pointed out that the Supreme Court’s attacks on campaign finance laws go hand in hand with their attacks on the right to cast a vote; both have the effect of disempowering average Americans in our democracy. This is why, Baker pointed out, we must take on the Supreme Court and reclaim our political system – making it a democracy truly of, by, and for the people.
You can listen to the call here:
Before yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed campaign finance constitutional amendment had even begun, advocates from People For the American Way and partner organizations had already delivered a powerful message from the American people. Carrying signs saying “Restore the First Amendment” and “Amend the Constitution to #GetMoneyOut,” activists rolled in stacked boxes of more than two million petitions in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
In his opening remarks, Sen. Patrick Leahy noted that these petitions serve as a “tangible reminder that Americans are calling on Congress to act.”
In an rare move that underscored the importance of the proposed amendment, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell testified at the hearing. Sen. Reid issued a call to action for the amendment, urging Americans to work together to restore the basic principle of one American, one vote. “Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances,” he said.
Sen. McConnell, on the other hand, used the platform to claim that the proposed amendment is about shutting people up, calling it the “latest proposal to weaken the First Amendment.” Later, Sen. Ted Cruz continued to push the false claim that the amendment would “repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment” and “muzzle” Americans.
But other witnesses were quick to debunk this myth, including constitutional law expert Jamie Raskin, who is also a senior fellow at People For the American Way. In his testimony, Raskin noted:
[E]ven as our huge majorities of Americans support reclaiming our democracy, opponents of the Amendment are waving the flag of the First Amendment, as if political democracy and free speech are enemies. But the Citizens United era has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with plutocratic power. Citizens United did not increase the rights of a single citizen to express his or her views with speech or with money. Before the decision, all citizens, including CEOs, could express themselves freely, make contributions, and spend all the money they had to promote their politics. They could band together with the help of the corporation and form a PAC. All Citizens United did was confer a power on CEOs to write corporate treasury checks for political expenditures, without a vote of the shareholders, prior consultation or even disclosure.
In terms of real world consequences, Raskin went on to note, these damaging Supreme Court decisions did not “expand the political freedom of citizens but… reduce[d] the political power of citizens.”
North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick described some of those real world effects, noting that he can divide his time in the state legislature into two distinct periods: “before Citizens United, and after”:
Suddenly, no matter what the race was, money came flooding in. Even elected officials who had been in office for decades told me they’d never seen anything like it. We were barraged by television ads that were uglier and less honest than I would have thought possible. And they all seemed to be coming from groups with names we had never even heard of. But it was clear that corporations and individuals who could write giant checks had a new level of power in the state.
The movement to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases continues to grow across the country and in the halls of Congress.
At the local level, over 500 cities and towns – including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, San Jose, Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Albuquerque, Tucson, and Miami, among others – have called for a constitutional amendment.
At the state level, either by passing legislative resolutions or by voting directly on ballot measures, 16 states (containing over 95 million people) have called upon Congress to send them an amendment bill for ratification.
At the federal level, 14 amendment resolutions have been introduced in the US Congress in the 113th session, and 124 representatives (directly representing 87 million people) and 35 senators (representing over 150 million people) have endorsed the amendment strategy since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010. Furthermore, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
To find out more about the amendment strategy and its progress, please visit www.United4ThePeople.org.
Yesterday Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s) and Edward Erikson had a great op-ed at CNN.com connecting the student debt crisis with the broader issue of big money’s influence in our political system:
But the education system isn't broken -- it's “fixed.” If we're serious about tackling the issue of affordable education and student debt, we need to strike at the root of the problem -- the influence of money in politics.
Private corporations like Sallie Mae -- which own 15% or $162.5 billion dollars of total student debt -- rake in private-island-purchasing profits while students suffer.
Indeed, from student debt bills to workers’ rights legislation to environmental protections, policies that protect everyday Americans will continue to face uphill battles until we can limit the influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy.
Cohen and Erikson point out:
It's time to dam the deluge of cash and corporate influence in Washington once and for all….Thanks to the leadership by groups like People for the American Way, Move to Amend, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen, 16 states have passed referendums calling on Congress to take action and over 150 members of Congress support the amendment strategy. (emphasis added)
And with so much amendment momentum at the state and local level, PFAW and allies are shifting our focus to Congress. As part of our “160 Summer” campaign, money in politics groups are working toward a goal of getting 160 members of Congress to sponsor an amendment resolution limiting the deluge of big money pouring into our elections by overturning Citizens United. Has your representative already voiced their support?
As Cohen and Erikson put it, “This is our future and our fight to win.”
Yesterday, House Democrats held a press conference highlighting the need to clean up the election system through what they are calling the DARE initiative. (To note, this is the same initiative Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi presented and spoke about in length at PFAW’s 30th Anniversary celebration this past June.) The acronym stands for the following:
D – Disclose
A – Amend
R – Reform
E – Elect
In just a short period of time, the impact of the Supreme Court’s egregious ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to corporate and special interest spending in our elections, has been felt nationwide. In response, a growing chorus of activists and organizations are mobilizing to overturn the decision by amending (the A in DARE) the Constitution. As evidenced by the press conference, public officials are responding to this movement. Nearly 2,000 are already on record in support of amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, including 92 Representatives in the House.
In attendance of the press conference were Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep John B. Larson (D-CT.), U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD.), U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA.), U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (),U.S. Rep Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), as well as Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign.
Nyhart outlined three critical steps needed to remedy this: full disclosure, small donor and citizen-led funding of elections, and the ability to limit donations from large corporate entities.
Recently Republicans and Democrats clashed on the Disclose Act, which would have required the disclosure of all major donors in the election process. Leader Pelosi expressed her concern that dark money is “suffocating the airwaves and suppressing the vote.”
Not so long ago, disclosure was a bi-partisan issue. Congressman Van Hollen made this clear, quoting Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s (R-KT) statement from 2000 endorsing such reforms: “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”
Expressing his passion about the issue, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, motioning toward the Capitol building, told reporters, “in post-production you might want to include a ‘For Sale’ sign in front of that.” Kucinich stated, “Let’s be candid, the system is for sale.” The outgoing congressman urged immediate action on removing the corrupting influence of dark money, lest we lose our republic to the influence of special interests. This government must remain in the hands of the people - or as Mr. Nyhart put it, remain “Of, by, and for the many… not the money.”
[Dylan Hewitt, Amelia Coffey, and Michael Jameson contributed to this post]
Last week, the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate held hearings entitled, “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs,” which examined the devastating Citizens United decision, and the need to amend the Constitution to overturn it. As acknowledged by the hearings’ participants – and as evidenced by the overflow crowd who came to see the hearing in person, as well as the 1.9 million petition signatures calling for an amendment that were delivered to the committee and on display in the room – these hearings were held in response to the growing grassroots movement across the country in support of constitutional remedies, and demonstrated a form of bottom-up democratic participation seldom witnessed in Washington.
As noted by the Executive Vice President of PFAW, Marge Baker, “… by holding these hearings, our elected representatives are honoring the millions of Americans who are calling for a Constitution that ensures that “We the People” means all the people, not just the privileged few.”
The first panel of the hearings featured testimony from Senator Max Baucus, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Representative Donna Edwards, all of whom have introduced amendment resolutions in the 112th Congress. Although their approaches differ, one theme remained consistent throughout their testimonies: since legislative remedies alone cannot undo the damage wrought by Citizens United, the amendment strategy must be employed to take back our democracy.
In his opening remarks, Senator Durbin, who chairs the Constitution Subcommittee, echoed the thoughts of many of his colleagues – currently 28 U.S. Senators are in support of an amendment, as are 92 U.S. Representatives – by stating, “After much deliberation, with some hesitation, I have reached the conclusion that a constitutional amendment is necessary to clean up our campaign finance system once and for all.”
Indeed, although we strongly advocate for an amendment that would restore the American people’s ability to regulate election spending, People For The American Way agrees that the amendment process should not be taken lightly. As we noted in the written testimony we submitted for the hearings:
Amending the United States Constitution is not something we recommend lightly, but the danger caused by the Roberts Court’s distortion of the First Amendment requires us to take corrective action. Some who are genuinely concerned about the threat to our democracy might nevertheless be reluctant to tamper with perhaps the greatest legal document in world history. As an organization that deeply respects the Constitution, we understand that reluctance, and we address this section of our comments to those of that view.
The American people, as shown by polling PFAW conducted on the issue, understand better than their elected representatives the need to support constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. The second panel of the hearings reflected this sentiment. It featured testimony from former Louisiana Governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Charles ‘Buddy’ Roemer and the celebrated legal scholar Professor Lawrence Lessig. As Professor Lessig stated in his testimony, “simply, the people have lost faith in their government,” and therefore deep reform is now necessary. Testifying at the request of the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee, Senator Lindsey Graham, was senior fellow of the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro. He opposed not only the amendment proposals in the hearings, but also the DISCLOSE Act, which Republicans recently blocked from coming to a vote in a highly partisan filibuster.
In a piece published last week, Senior Fellow of People For the American Way Professor Jamie Raskin stated, “The American people have been forced several times to amend the Constitution to reverse the damage caused by the Supreme Court when it acts in collusion with the enemies of social justice and popular democracy.” Professor Raskin then cited the Dred Scott decision, Minor v. Hapersett, and Breedlove v. Suttles all as cases that solidified unjust and undemocratic judicial systems; and all of which were later overturned by constitutional amendment.
It is up to the American people to ensure that Congress continues to examine the amendment strategy, and that Citizens United is added to that list. Video highlights of the hearings are featured below, while individual testimonies can be found on PFAW’s YouTube Page.
Mitt Romney raised a lot of money this weekend at a gala fundraiser in the Hamptons, where guests such as the Koch brothers paid up to $50,000 to attend. But according to the Huffington Post, one particular presence that weekend was not on the official guest list: Karl Rove.
Rove was in town to speak at a luncheon promoting his super PAC, American Crossroads, and his affiliated nonprofit group. Because American Crossroads spends its contributors’ unlimited donations on ads supporting Mitt Romney (or attacking President Obama), the Romney campaign and Rove are prohibited by law from “coordinating” with each other.
As far as the law is concerned, however, “coordination” is defined narrowly at best. With the Romney event unable to sponsor Rove’s luncheon, Solamere Capital, a private equity firm founded by Romney’s son Tagg along with Romney’s chief fundraiser Spencer Zwick, footed the bill. Many of the attendees at Rove’s luncheon, scheduled the day before the official retreat weekend, were also at the campaign fundraiser. As one fundraiser who was at the retreat noted, “It was not a coincidence that the Solamere conference took place in the same city just before the retreat began.”
Thanks to Citizens United, corporations and wealthy individuals and special interests can bypass the $2,500 maximum that campaign committees can accept and instead give unlimited amounts to super PACs like American Crossroads, which in turn spent about $300 million this year to support the GOP. Although in its flawed ruling the Court may have intended such outside groups to be independent, the facts just don’t support that notion:
"This kind of activity [by Rove] is the last thing the Supreme Court had in mind when it ruled that spending by an outside group had to be 'totally independent' and 'wholly independent' from a candidate the group is supporting with expenditures," Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, said in an interview. "The FEC lives in a pure fantasy world in the way it attempts to define coordinated activities as not being coordinated activities."
Citizens United has left us in quite a campaign finance mess – and a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision and related cases is the only path forward to fairer and more transparent elections.
Today, Assembly Joint Resolution 22 passed the California Senate with a 24-11 vote, and thus California became the sixth state – joining Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Maryland and Rhode Island – to call upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision. That decision opened the floodgates to corporate and special interest spending in our elections; and sparked a grassroots movement to amend the Constitution and restore government of, by, and for the people.
AJR 22 was introduced by Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, who stated, “Today’s vote sends a clear message that California rejects this misguided ruling made by the conservative activists on the Supreme Court.” That same block of conservative Supreme Court justices who supported the majority opinion in Citizens United just weeks ago summarily reversed a case brought to the court by Montana, which refused to strike down their century-old anti-corruption law prohibiting corporate expenditures in elections – proving now, more than ever before, the need for an amendment to overturn the ruling.
California’s largest cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already passed amendment resolutions, as have well over 30 other municipalities in the state. Support for the amendment strategy has been following this bottom-up trend (from grassroots to local; local to state; and state to federal) in a democratic surge of activism that demonstrates the power of the movement. As recently witnessed in Philadelphia, public officials take note when these resolutions pass.
It is now the responsibility of the Californian congressional delegation to join – if they have not already – the growing list of public officials who have pledged their support for constitutional remedies. And it is the responsibility of Californians, and people across the nation, to keep fighting and pushing for an amendment.
The money in politics problem is not going away … but neither are we. Onward!
Under the banner of United For the People, a new web platform launched today to collect and amplify the growing grassroots movement in America that is calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision in Citizens United and restore the balance of influence in our elections to the people.
At www.peoplestestimony.com, the American people, good government organizations and elected officials can record a short video about how their lives are affected by money in politics and the outsized influence in our elections enjoyed by corporations and wealthy special interests – and what we can do about it.
Here is one such video, by PFAW staff:
To see the rest, and to find out how to submit your own video, visit www.peoplestestimony.com.
At their annual conference in Orlando, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and special interest spending on elections. Citing Justice John Paul Stevens and the dissenters in the Citizens United case, the mayors’ resolution declares the need to “broaden the corruption rationale for campaign finance reform to facilitate regulation of independent expenditures regardless of the source of the money for this spending, for or against a candidate.” Finding compelling “fundamental interests” in “creating a level playing field and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard,” the Conference of Mayors resolves that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons and that “urgent action” be taken to reverse the impacts of Citizens United in opening the door to unlimited independent campaign expenditures by corporations that undermines “free and fair elections and effective self-governance.”
The resolution calls on other communities, jurisdictions and organizations to pass similar resolutions. So far over, over 250 municipalities have already passed resolutions calling for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases and returning the power to influence our elections to the people. And more than 1600 public officials have gone on record in support of constitutional remedies to overturn the decision. More than 100 organizations have come together under the umbrella of United For the People to press for amending the Constitution to address the harm caused by Citizens United and related cases.