Cross-partisan public support spurs congressional hearing to overturn Citizens United
On Thursday, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties is holding a hearing on Citizens United and its “Consequences for Democracy & Potential Responses by Congress.”
Already 141 million Americans, 46 percent of the U.S. population, in 20 states and 806 localities have supported amending the Constitution in order to restore the democratic promise of America. In Congress, 47 of the needed 67 senators and 210 of the 290 representatives have signed on in support of the 28th Amendment with 20 of 38 states having passed measures that will make it ready to ratify.
Our current election funding system has us hurtling toward oligarchy. The lack of trust between the American people and our representatives in government has reached a crisis point.
In Citizens United, the Supreme Court asserted that unlimited political spending would not increase the perception of corruption and undermine faith in American democracy—however, as Republican former New Hampshire state Sen. Jim Rubens points out, this has not stood up in reality. At 17 percent, public trust in our federal government today sits at historic lows. In the 1990s, more than half of Americans had a favorable view of Congress but now barely 1 in 5 have such a view, and Americans now rank political corruption as our nation’s No. 1 most serious and crisis-level issue.
The problem of money influencing elections is not merely about the amount of money, it is that most of the money comes from a small slice of the population. Consider political contributions of $200 or more: Such contributions account for over 70 percent of national election spending, yet they are coming from only 0.47 percent of the U.S. population. Let that sink in: The vast majority of election spending (over 70 percent) is coming from less than one half of one percent of all Americans.
Voters’ negative views of our current political system are coupled with a desire for reform. More than 60 percent of Americans support “significant changes” in the fundamental “design and structure” of American government. With specific regard to campaign finance, a wide bipartisan majority of Americans (77 percent) believe there should be limits on campaign spending. On the whole, public opinion data suggests that Americans overwhelmingly support a Constitutional amendment to address the issue across partisan divides. The cause of this strong bipartisan support is that passing an amendment defends fundamental priorities of all Americans.
This system has mutated free-market capitalism into crony capitalism, through which the government picks economic winners and losers by doling out tax breaks, loan guarantees, regulatory favors and contract awards. Instead of delivering better products and services to customers, business competes by buying influence or submitting to extortion in Washington, leading to reduced innovation and the formation of fewer new businesses.
United around the endless push for more spending and tax loopholes for favored policies, big money upends any notion of fiscal sanity. According to a recent study, for each $1 of lobbying, the top 10 spenders got $1,000 in grants and contracts, paid for by taxpayers.
Unlimited political spending also undercuts federalism, opening the door for outside money to dominate state and local elections. Increasingly, foreign individuals and organizations use money to determine the outcomes of these elections, undermining the promise of the 10th Amendment.
The amendment is also necessary to protect the equal representation and freedom of political speech guaranteed in the First Amendment. From its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo to more recent decisions, the Supreme Court launched the country into an experiment in aggressive judicial intervention against the traditional balancing of interests that the people and our representatives had brought to free speech and money in elections for the first two centuries of our Republic.
In its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and several additional decisions, the Court effectively decreed that the American people cannot legislate election funding limits regardless of the loss of equal rights to representation and free speech.
Under this new theory, citizens’ equal rights do not matter. Those with more wealth can use that wealth—to unlimited degree—to drown out the voices of everyone else. The right of all Americans to free speech is because we’re equal citizens—I’m not allowed to shout you down because you have an equal right to free speech, as well. The court’s removal of equality from the First Amendment is the most efficient, most effective way to rapidly allocate political power based on wealth in this country, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
Because the Court has made an interpretation of constitutional text in these decisions, the only solution is to amend the Constitution and make clear that the Court’s approach has been wrong.
A well-crafted amendment should protect free speech and representation rights of all Americans, restore traditional anti-corruption Constitutional principles, and protect the integrity of the elections and self-government by enabling Congress and the states to enact reasonable limits on expenditures to influence elections.
Across the nation, Americans from every walk of life—legal experts, business leaders, veterans, elected officials, health care professionals, young people, parents, grandparents, Republicans, Democrats, and independents—are united in asking Congress to fix the systemic damage done by Citizens United. The 28th Amendment to the Constitution is how we will achieve it.
Jeff Clements is a constitutional lawyer and founder of American Promise.
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