America needs a constitutional check on money in politics

America needs a constitutional check on money in politics
© Getty

Is “Big Ice Cream” working to undermine our democracy? That’s the question Joe Albanese recently posed in the National Review attacking Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, and his effort to limit the amount of money that special interests, corporations, and billionaires spend to influence elections.  

We may not agree with all of Mr. Cohen’s politics but he is dead right on the need for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end the rule of big money in our politics. This constitutional amendment effort is being led by Republicans, Democrats, independents, and citizens of all stripes across the country — and it is our best hope to preserve our constitutional republic.

ADVERTISEMENT
Starting in the 1970s, and accelerating in the last decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted corporations and unions unprecedented rights to spend unlimited money to influence elections. One of the most notorious examples of this is the 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, which saw a narrow majority of the Court engage in intellectual gymnastics and conclude that money spent to influence elections is speech protected by the First Amendment, and that corporations are “people” under the Constitution.

According to Former Representative Jim Leach (R-Iowa): “Citizens United has genetically altered our democratic DNA, pushing American politics in an oligarchic, corporatist direction. The Constitution begins 'We the people' not 'We the corporations.'”

As a result, Americans are increasingly sidelined in elections and government as spectators and consumers rather than citizens and lawmakers.

Conservative political consultant John Pudner, who helped David BratDavid Alan BratBlack Dem accuses GOP rep of racism in abortion remarks Speaker race to dominate Sunday shows Trump expands staff in three states MORE unseat Eric CantorEric CantorEric Cantor offering advice to end ‘immigration wars’ Trump's olive branch differs from the golden eras of bipartisanship After divisive rally, Trump calls for unity MORE and now runs Take Back our Republic and sits on American Promise’s Advisory Board, says, “The roar of special interest money has been getting louder for decades, and it's now drowning out the free speech of individual citizens.”

In reversing cases like Citizens United v. FEC, a 28th Amendment would return the First Amendment to its proper interpretation, protecting the free speech rights of all Americans, not just corporations and billionaires.

Despite false boogieman claims by critics that a 28th Amendment would allow the FCC to censor news organizations, ban Saturday Night Live, or allow the government to unlawfully search and seize corporate property, the leading amendment proposal currently in Congress specifies that “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”  And the corporate property would still be protected against unlawful search and seizure by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, respectively.

Albanese, a research fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics, celebrates the flood of money pouring into our politics. According to the Center for Competitive Politics’ website: “This growing level of political spending should be encouraged, as it represents everyday Americans participating in their community and in civic life.”

This conclusion ignores the fact that the vast majority of this political spending comes from the ultra-rich, not “everyday Americans.”  According to Politico, in the 2016 presidential election, the 100 biggest donors spent more than the 2 million smallest donors combined. We can’t blame those with money and power from using it to further their interests, but we Americans have an obligation to protect our republic from concentrated power and undue influence.

A game of unlimited money in elections when most people can’t play is hardly competitive. What’s competitive about most Americans unable to get on the field of politics, let alone play in it? What’s competitive about incumbents protecting themselves from competition by the overwhelming and unfair advantage of rigging the donor game?  

In 2016, 97 percent of incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives were re-elected. Americans want change but the donor class keeps sending the politicians who deliver the return on their investment back to Washington.

The 28th Amendment will bring all Americans into the game, unleashing the competition and creativity that’s possible when the system is opened up and loosened the dominating control of the donor class.

James C. Nelson served for 20 years as a justice on the Supreme Court of Montana after his appointment by Governor Marc Racicot, a Republican, in 1993. He now serves on the Advisory Council of American Promise.

Jack Doty, a life-long Republican, is a senior level corporate finance executive. He chairs the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Foundation and serves on the Advisory Council of American Promise.