citizens united protest

Attendees hold signs as they listen to speakers during a rally calling for an end to corporate money in politics and to mark the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on January 21, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'Democracy for All': House Dems Introduce Bill to Overturn Citizens United

"It's time to ensure our democracy works for all people by getting big money out of politics and ensuring every voter's voice is heard," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

To end an era in which wealthy corporations and billionaires have been given free rein to spend nearly unlimited money on political campaigns, Democrats in the U.S. House on Thursday proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn the hugely consequential Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by U.S. Supreme Court, saying the ruling "has dangerously eroded" the government's ability to serve the public interest.

Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) led dozens of co-sponsors in introducing the Democracy for All Amendment two days before the 13th anniversary of the Citizens United decision, in which the court struck down a ban on corporate independent expenditures.

According to Schiff, the constitutional amendment—which the congressman first proposed in 2013—would:

  • Make clear the Constitution does not restrict the ability of Congress or the states to propose reasonable, viewpoint-neutral limitations on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections;
  • Distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities, including by prohibiting the latter from spending unlimited amounts of money to influence elections;
  • Allow states to enact public campaign financing systems, which can restrict the influence of corporate or private wealth; and
  • Take further steps to protect the freedom of the press in the case of future campaign finance-related legislation.

The proposal, said the campaign finance reform group End Citizens United, "strikes at the heart" of the 2010 ruling.

"It would affirm the right of the people to pass state and federal laws by restoring Congress' and the states' authority to place [limits] on political spending," said the group.

In addition to overturning Citizens United, the Democrats aim to overturn the "fundamental flaws" and legal precedents that underpinned the court's reasoning in 2010 and in "an entire line of cases dating back to the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which prevented meaningful regulation of campaign expenditures by corporations and special interest groups."

"Citizens United was one of the most egregious enablers of special interest money, but it was only the latest in a long line of Supreme Court cases that opened the floodgates. To truly rein in dark money, we must amend our Constitution," Schiff's office said. "The Democracy for All Amendment will close legal loopholes that wealthy megadonors, corporations, and special interest groups have exploited for far too long, and return power to the people once and for all."

The 2010 ruling allowed special interest groups and corporations to create super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations—including from "dark money groups" whose contributors are hidden from the public—and spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns.

John Bonifaz, president and co-founder of Free Speech For People, said the amendment would allow for overall campaign spending limits and public campaign financing systems and would end the big money dominance of our elections."

The Democracy for All Act would affirm, said Jayapal, that "corporations are not people and money is not speech."

"In every election following Citizens United, billions of dollars of dark money have been dumped into our electoral system, giving corporations and the richest Americans outsized power and influence," said the congresswoman. "It's time to ensure our democracy works for all people by getting big money out of politics and ensuring every voter's voice is heard."

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