Remember in 2009, when the way our elections were financed was perfect, corporate power was reined in by Congress, and everything was A-OK and hunky-dory? Me neither.
Liberals have been rejoicing over the introduction and recent committee passage of SJR-19, a proposed constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. FEC and McCutcheon vs. FEC decisions. In essence, the amendment says states have the power to regulate campaign spending, and Congress has the power to regulate outside spending in elections. Sounds good, right? Wrong.
Senator Tom Udall’s (D-NM) proposed constitutional amendment is an election-year bone thrown at the masses, who are in a populist rage over the corruption of our government by corporate power and big moneyed interests. In introducing this amendment and passing it in committee, DC politicians are saying that they hear us, understand we’re upset, and are hoping that we’ll be satisfied with a half-measure that any corporate lawyer worth his salt can find his way around.
Udall and the 40-plus Democrats who have co-sponsored the legislation are aiming to placate us with an amendment that takes us back to 2009. Even before Citizens United emerged and significantly changed the financing of campaigns, McCain-Feingold, the last significant campaign finance reform bill, which was already riddled with loopholes, had been mostly gutted by the Bush administration’s chief justice of the Supreme Court in 2007. Celebrating SJR-19 as the be-all, end-all constitutional amendment that will make our government accountable to the people again is laughable. It’s akin to the captain of the Titanic applying chewed-up bubble gum on the hole in the ship and calling it good.
So how do we fix the gushing head-wound that is our democracy? Udall has it half-right with a constitutional amendment, but his doesn’t go nearly far enough. Instead, we need a constitutional amendment that explicitly defines human beings as people, and corporations as artificial entities not deserving of constitutional rights. And it needs to state that money is not political speech. Any amendment that doesn’t make these two points is a waste of an amendment. You only get one shot with a constitutional amendment, so if you’re going to do it, go all the way or don’t do it at all.
A constitutional amendment abolishing constitutional rights for corporations would overturn not only Citizens United vs. FEC, but also Buckley vs. Valeo and Union Pacific Railroad vs. Santa Clara County, which originally established the concept of corporate personhood. It would also, by default, abolish all subsequent Supreme Court cases based on the constitutional rights of corporations, likeBurwell vs. Hobby Lobby, for instance. And abolishing the concept of money as political speech would strip outside interests of the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on despicable TV ads that perpetuate falsehoods about candidates. Not only would we have clean elections, but we would finally be able to say that fictitious entities like corporations no longer have the right to walk all over people in the name of profit. Luckily, there’s already wide grassroots support for such an amendment. Through Move to Amend’s efforts, 478 local, county, and state government entities have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and money as speech. State legislatures in Delaware, Illinois, and Vermont have all called for such an amendment. Voters in Montana approved a statewide ballot initiative to do the same. The Minnesota and West Virginia Senates both passed resolutions. Resolutions are currently in progress at the Minnesota and Arizona House, the California Senate, and in both the House and Senate in Texas. The people aren’t waiting on Cong! ress to do what needs to be done.
Congress should take its lead from the people, who have already made it very clear in both red and blue states that a constitutional amendment is needed, and that campaign finance reform is only scratching the surface. Such an amendment has already been introduced in Congress by Representative Rick Nolan (DFL-Minn.) in February of 2013. Udall and his co-sponsors should take their cues from HJR-29, or the “We the People Amendment,” if they’re serious about representing the people’s interests. Anything else is an election-year bone not to be taken seriously.