By Alexander Bolton - 06/03/14 10:40 AM EDT
Reid: Outside groups pose 'greatest threat' to our democracy
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that political spending by outside groups poses the greatest threat to democracy he has ever seen.
"I am here because the flood of dark money into our nation’s political system poses the greatest threat to our democracy that I have witnessed during my tenure in public service,” Reid said in rare testimony before a Senate committee.
He blamed the rash of spending by third party groups on the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
"The decisions by the Supreme Court have left the American people with a status quo in which one side’s billionaires are pitted against the other side’s billionaires,” Reid said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
He called for the adoption of a constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would empower Congress to regulate campaign fundraising without impediment from the courts.
"We sit here today faced with a simple choice: We can keep the status quo and argue all day, all night, weekends, forever about whose billionaires are right, or we can work together to change the system, to get this shady money out of our democracy and restore the basic principle of one American, one vote," Reid said.
Reid’s testimony is part of a broader offensive against Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who plan to spend more than $100 million against Democratic candidates in the midterm election.
Reid noted that in the 2012 presidential campaign, outside groups spent more than $1 billion, estimating it equaled the sum spent by outside groups in the previous 12 elections combined.
He described his reelection race in 2010, in the wake of Citizens United, as “not a lot of fun” and a return to the “sewer” of dirty politics because of the influence of outside groups.
Reid argued that Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), previously supported limits on spending by outside groups and should do so again.
He noted McConnell supported a constitutional amendment in 1988 empowering Congress to regulate independent expenditures.
“Sen. McConnell had the right idea then. I am optimistic that we can find a way to rekindle those noble principles in him now,” he said while McConnell sat next to him at the witness table.
McConnell was scheduled to testify after Reid.
“The First Amendment is about empowering the people, not the government,” McConnell plans to say, according to an excerpt of his speech.
“The proposed amendment has it exactly backwards. It says that Congress and the states can pass whatever law they want abridging political speech — the speech that is at the very core of the First Amendment.”
— This story was updated at 11:09 a.m.