In a victory for campaign finance reform, the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning voted to advance Tom Udall's (D-New Mexico) proposed constitutional amendment that would restore authority back to Congress, individual states, and the American people to regulate political donations and election spending.
The 28th Amendment, which would effectively overturn recent Supreme Court rulings that have increased the influence of extremely wealthy donors and corporations, will now go before the full U.S. Senate for a vote this fall.
"The amendment is crucial to strengthening and restoring the First Amendment, which has been weakened and distorted by a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement.
He continued: "Specifically, the amendment would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and its misguided holding that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as real, live, breathing human beings to influence election outcomes. It will overturn McCutcheon v. FEC, with its holding that the only justification for limits on campaign donations is to prevent criminal bribery. And it will overturn Buckley v. Valeo — the case holding that “money equals speech” and imposing Supreme Court-made constitutional obstacles to imposing limits on what can be spent on elections."
At the committee mark-up session, which followed a June 3 public hearing, several senators spoke out passionately in favor of the amendment.
In his statement to the committee, chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said:
I have served in the Senate for nearly 40 years and as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee for nearly ten. I have always believed that amending our Constitution must be subject to the highest measure of scrutiny. It is something that should only be done as a last resort. But when the voices of hardworking Americans continue to be drowned out by the moneyed few, and when legislative efforts to right this wrong are repeatedly filibustered by Republicans, more serious action must be taken.
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The proposal faces an uphill battle in the senate and beyond. Opponents like Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) claim it could curtail free-speech protections.
In an op-ed published at Hightower Lowdown, Jim Hightower notes:
Of course, John Boehner's corporatized house will kill anything the senate does this go-round, but that's going to be a revealing and very public embarrassment for those servants of plutocracy. Meanwhile, the senate vote is a momentous organizing moment, and the grassroots coalitions are all over it, scheduling rallies, thank-you parties for supporters, petition-drives, teach-ins, and whatever else they can imagine to capture this highly visible breakthrough, which will lift the campaign to an even higher level of awareness and support.
According to People for the American Way (PFAW), there are currently 45 senators who are in favor of the amendment, which needs two-thirds of the senate to pass. Last week 60 organizations, including PFAW, sent a letter to all senators, urging them to support the proposal.
"We do not lightly call for amending our great Constitution," the letter read. "But we know that there can be no greater constitutional purpose than ensuring the functioning of our democracy."
Advocacy organizations are encouraging the public to contact their senators and find out where they stand.
In a call to action, Public Citizen pointed out: "A strong vote in the U.S. Senate will help grow and build the movement to overturn the disastrous Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, take democracy off the auction block, and preserve constitutional rights for people — not corporations. A weak vote may make it difficult to bring the issue up again."