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The Last of the Big Money Elections?

The movement to overturn Citizens United might just make 2012’s record election spending into the end of an era.

Supporters of clean elections rally in Chicago on January 19, 2013. (Photo: Public Citizen)Last November, Americans did more than suffer through the first SuperPAC presidential election, and they accomplished something more than the election of a president. Two states, Montana and Colorado, simultaneously approved ballot measures urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the disastrous Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

One reason this is so exciting is that Montana, a red state that voted for Romney by 13 points, and Colorado, a swing state, are part of a growing movement in the United States to make an amendment happen. In fact, our country is now one quarter of the way to making it a reality.

As prescribed in Article V of the Constitution, the amendment process requires a two-thirds vote by both chambers of Congress, followed by ratification by three-quarters of the states. Today, three years after the infamous Supreme Court ruling, we're closer than ever to hitting those magic numbers of 67 senators, 290 representatives and 38 states.

Here’s the rundown. In Congress, 24 returning senators and 73 returning representatives have introduced or co-sponsored amendments to overturn Citizens United. On the state side, Montana and Colorado have become the 10th and 11th states to formally call for an amendment, and are the first to do so through a statewide popular vote. Voters in both these states approved their measures by margins of nearly three to one.

Other states have used different means. Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey acted through their legislatures, passing formal resolutions calling for an amendment. In Connecticut and Maryland, majorities of state legislators signed letters to the U.S. Congress with the same request.

The movement has been growing at the local level, too. More than 350 cities, towns, and counties across the United States have called for an amendment, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, and more than 2,000 elected officials nationwide are on record supporting one.

The movement to overturn Citizens United may well have arrived at a tipping point. Polling shows overwhelming public support for overruling the decision through the constitutional amendment process, as well as extraordinary support for limiting the amount of money corporations, unions and other groups can spend in elections. The support also cuts across party lines. Just look at Montana, a state that has only supported a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1968, but nonetheless resoundingly called for a constitutional amendment this November.

So while a record-breaking six billion dollars was indeed spent in last year’s election, it remains to be seen whether that number will be remembered as historic because it marked the beginning of a new age of big money in politics, or the beginning of its end.

Given the enormous progress the nation has made toward a constitutional amendment in such a short time, it’s possible that the 2012 election will actually mark the ascendency of the national movement to take back our democracy.

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