Federal watchdog launches campaign to nix Citizens United

A government watchdog is launching a grassroots movement to promote sending legislation to Congress that would authorize spending limits and make a distinction between corporations and people in campaign finance law.

Common Cause introduced the Amend 2012 campaign Tuesday, on the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. The nonpartisan group’s goal is to get “voter instructions” on state ballots in November to adopt an amendment to the Constitution that would overturn the landmark Supreme Court decision.

“We are in effect creating a road map for people to demand the overturn of Citizens United,” said Common Cause Board Chairman Robert Reich, who served as Labor secretary under the Clinton administration.

“We think the strategy has the potential to engage voters who are fed up with the system … whether they are Tea Partiers, Occupiers or simply independents.”

In the 2010 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not limit corporate spending for or against a candidate because it violates First Amendment, freedom of speech rights. 

The decision led to the creation of super-PACs — political committees that can raise unlimited funds but aren't allowed to coordinate with the candidates they support.

Voter instructions or initiatives would allow citizens to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision. The “wordsmith-ing of the amendment” is still under way, Common Cause President Bob Edgar told reporters.

There are at least 11 states where voter initiatives for the November ballot are still possible. Common Cause staff said they would focus on Colorado, Montana and Massachusetts first, although the group has worked in five states already where resolutions were passed pushing for the turnaround of Citizens United.

The group is not discounting those states where voter initiatives are no longer viable: The self-identified “citizen’s lobby” plans to promote movements for those state legislatures to put an advisory question regarding Citizens United on the November ballot.

“Our goal here is to introduce a tool to this movement,” Edgar said.

“Not a day goes by that I … am not asked by email, ‘what can we do about Citizens United?’ Our thoughts and our goal is to give citizens a road map for how they can … overturn this decision.”

Common Cause lobbyist Sarah Dufendach said the “real action” will take place in state and local environments or outside the Beltway because people inside the Beltway are the beneficiaries of these policies.

“Ultimately Congress has to initiate the amendment, so hopefully they will be watching the incredible passion [of the movement]. … This is really important for Americans and [Congress is] going to need to react soon,” Dufendach said.

Accomplishing Common Cause’s goal of a constitutional amendment will likely take years, staff said. Amend 2013 and Amend 2014 were both mentioned on the call with reporters. But getting the issue to the forefront and pushing candidates to voice their view on the court decision in 2012 is the first step.

“Underlying every major issue we face as a society ... everything that people care about is related and determined by this fundamental issue of who controls this democracy,” Reich said.

“It is impossible to make progress on any major issue affecting Americans unless the public takes back [our democracy.]”