A constitutional amendment is needed to undo the damage caused by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Senate Democrats and activists told a Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Statements at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights hearing chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) echoed the growing push across the nation against the decision that opened the floodgates for tremendous amounts of money in the hands of very few to affect elections.
“Since the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United, we have seen the rapid rise of super PACs and unprecedented influence buying by wealthy individuals seeking to advance their agendas,” Durbin said at the hearing.
“It’s increasingly clear that the only way to really reform our system is to pass a constitutional amendment to regulate how we finance our elections,” Durbin added.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) said, "What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.'
"That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about -- and that's why it must be overturned," said Sanders, the sponsor of the Saving American Democracy Amendment.
Fellow Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy also emphasized the corporate power given by the decision. “It is astonishing and troubling for our democracy to see efforts underway to restrict the right to vote for individuals Americans, while corporations are empowered through secret spending to control the outcome of our elections,” he said. “We need to work to restore the right balance in our democracy to protect the form of government Americans have fought and died for, what President Lincoln called our government of, by and for the people.”
"Free and fair elections are a founding principle of our democracies, they should not be for sale to the highest bidder," added Sen. Mark Udall (N.M.). "We must do something: The voice of the people is clear and so is their disgust."
Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig also testified at the hearing and stated that just disclosing the super PAC donor information didn't go far enough; what is needed is publicly funded elections. “Only a system of citizen funded elections – where dependence upon ‘the funders’ is the same as dependence upon ‘the People’ – could reform that corruption,” Lessig said.
In connection with Tuesday's hearing, citizens and organizations delivered nearly 2 million signatures calling for Citizens United to be overturned.
One of the signatories is Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy and ALECexposed.org.
"While billionaires are openly writing million-dollar checks to Super PACs, millions more is being secretly funneled to front groups whose ads may affect who wins and wields power over people and policy. Deceptively named nonprofit groups are becoming the Swiss bank accounts of elections, receiving secret multi-million dollar gifts that buy ads to influence how Americans vote. We may never know the true identity of those attempting to buy our elections through such shadowy groups -- whether they are corporations or people, domestic or foreign -- but we do know American democracy is increasingly for sale and that's why We the People are demanding that the Constitution be amended to fight this corruption," stated Graves.