Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced a joint resolution on Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment that would undo the damage they say was caused by a Supreme Court ruling that allows "unrestricted, secret campaign spending by corporations and billionaires."
In response to the 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—which critics say has greatly undermined democracy in the US by "opening the campaign spending floodgates"— a national grassroots movement has blossomed around the idea that only through a constitutional amendment can corporations be properly stripped of the court's determination that 'corporate speech' in the form of outsized financial giving is the same as the 'free speech' of individuals.
“What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United," said Sanders, "is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, ‘You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed.”
“Democracy is rule by the people, after all, not rule by Goldman Sachs, Walmart and the US Chamber of Commerce.” – Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
Called the 'Democracy is for People' Amendment, the new law, according to a statement, "bars all corporate entities from spending their general treasury funds in our elections by clarifying that the right to vote, and thus the ability to influence elections, belongs solely to actual people. At the same time, the Democracy is for People Amendment codifies into the Constitution the right of the American people to pass laws protecting fairness in our elections, limiting the corrupting influence of private wealth in our elections, and ensuring that elected officials are accountable to voters."
“Any constitutional amendment that simply gives Congress the option of regulating campaign finance fails to immediately achieve what the American people want, and that is a complete reversal of Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions that have allowed corporations and the wealthy few to drown out the voices of everyday voters,” said Congressman Deutch. “The Democracy is for People Amendment will stop corporations and their front groups from using their profits and dark money donations to influence our elections while reaffirming the right of the American people to elections that are fair and representatives that are accountable.”
Passing such amendment is not easy, however. Though it may originate in Congress, an addition to the Constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate in order to be submitted for consideration by the states. Ratification by three-fourths of the states is required to amend the Constitution.
Since the Citizens United decision was announced, nine states and more than 300 individual cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for the ruling to be overturned. Grassroots activists who have helped organize that push welcomed Tuesday's news.
"This amendment establishes the common sense proposition that the American people have the power to protect the integrity of our democracy in the wake of the most expensive election in U.S. history, with more dark money raised from secret sources than ever before," said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General. "The Democracy is for People Amendment represents a bold and thoughtful effort to undo the damage done by activist judges on the Supreme Court and to recognize the political equality of each American voter by limiting the undue influence of those who tried to super-size their votes in the 2012 elections by spending unprecedented sums on SuperPACs and stealthy groups that are exempt from taxes."
And Robert Weissman, president of the advocacy group Public Citizen said the legislation would “eliminate unaccountable corporate spending in our elections and restore governmental authority over campaign spending to the people.”
“Democracy is rule by the people, after all, not rule by Goldman Sachs, Walmart and the US Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
View the full text of the 'Democracy Is For People Amendment' and associated documents below:
Legislative Summary/Fact Sheet: