Senate Kills 'Citizens United' Reform

Activists rally for a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision on Friday, January 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman)

Senate Kills 'Citizens United' Reform

“Our democracy… is beyond broken. It is beyond shameful.”

Hope for a measure of campaign finance reform fell apart on Thursday after an amendment to overturn theCitizens United ruling failed to move forward in the Senate.

Senators voted 54-42 to end debate on the Democracy for All measure, as supporters called it, falling short of the necessary 60 votes needed.

"Senate Democrats want a government that works for all Americans--not just the richest few," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) after the vote. "Today, Senate Republicans clearly showed that they would rather sideline hardworking families in order to protect the Koch brothers and other radical interests that are working to fix our elections and buy our democracy."

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), would have enabled Congress and state legislators to override the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that deregulated campaign spending, which critics said gave unlimited power to super PACs and wealthy donors.

Its failure to pass on Thursday was a reverse from its advancement in the Senate earlier in the week, when it overcame an initial filibuster on Monday despite broad Republican opposition.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) criticized the decision and warned his colleagues that voters would remember Republicans' support of "dark money" policies.

"The constitutional amendment is related to every one of our priorities, because you need to have fair elections in order to give middle-class families a fair shot," Schumer said. "We'll tie each issue, whether it be paycheck fairness or college loans, back to the reason these [Fair Shot Agenda] bills don't pass, which is our campaign finance system."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) told the Washington Post on Wednesday that overturning Citizens United was "[t]he most important domestic issue facing the country." The ruling "creates an open door ... to pour unlimited sums of money into the political process," Sanders said, pointing to the Koch brothers as an example of wealthy donors being able to take advantage of the ruling to influence elections more than the average citizen, despite technically having the same amount of votes.

"[T]he average American has one vote and the Koch Brothers have one vote plus the ability to put tens and tens of thousands of ads on the air. That is not democracy," Sanders said.

Criticism for the Senate also came from a swath of nonprofit voices.

"Today, a minority of the Senate voted down the Udall Amendment, along with a chance to minimize the influence of money in our politics," said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. "In defeating the Udall Amendment, these senators chose to side with the Koch Brothers and sent a loud message to American voters that the true voice in politics belongs to those with big coffers."

"Today's vote once again shows that deep-pocketed special interests have a death grip on Washington," said campaign director Victoria Kaplan. "Our politicians, our elections and our democracy should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Yet, increasingly, that is the system we have. It is beyond broken. It is shameful. Once again, obstructionist Republicans have blocked sensible policy to return power where it belongs -- with the people, not with the army of lobbyists and corporate spenders."

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