Cleaning Up Campaign Finance
Cross-posted at nmpolitics.net
As we head into another election year, New Mexicans are about to be bombarded with negative attack ads paid for by anonymous, third-party organizations that dominate our TVs and radios in growing numbers each election cycle. We will see an unprecedented amount of money in our elections, and more than ever it will be coming from corporations and outside special interests.
We cannot stand idly by and watch our elections be fundamentally degraded by a flood of unaccountable money into the system. That is why I have introduced an amendment to the United States Constitution to address our country's broken campaign finance system.
Joining me in this effort are my colleagues, Senators Bennet, Harkin, Durbin, Schumer, Merkley, Whitehouse, Begich and Shaheen. We believe our campaign finance system should be subject to commonsense regulations that reinforce the spirit of democracy. Our constitutional amendment would allow Congress to get to the root of problem and address the virtually unlimited corporate and special-interest spending in elections.
How we got here
Over the past 10 years, the influence of corporations and special interests in political campaigns has exploded. Each time a regulation is put in place, special interests circumvent the rules through legal loopholes or use the courts to strike down the law. The problem isn't one particular law or judicial decision; it's the fact that Congress can no longer effectively regulate the flow of money into campaigns. The only sure fix is a constitutional amendment that gives Congress the authority to reform the campaign finance system.
We didn't get here over night. The Supreme Court has issued a series of bad decisions that have crowded and distorted our elections with a flood of corporate and special-interest money that can swing an election one way or the other. In 1976 the Supreme Court laid the groundwork for a broken system in the Buckley v. Valeo decision. In that case, the Court incorrectly decided that imposing modest restrictions on campaign expenditures violates the First Amendment right to free speech. This established the flawed precedent that money and speech are the same thing - something I strongly disagree with.
More recently the Supreme Court issued an even worse decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In this case, they granted the same free-speech rights to corporations and other special interests that the Constitution guarantees to individuals. With Buckley v. Valeo equating money to speech, and now Citizens United giving Free Speech rights to large corporations and interest groups, the political system is becoming evermore unbalanced.
While the average American only has one vote and limited resources to contribute to political candidates, these organizations can now pour vast sums of money into advertising that influences the outcome of our elections. As a result, in the elections of 2010, New Mexicans and all Americans saw a new breed of attack ads from out-of-state interests. The vast majority were negative. These new organizations raised and spent unlimited funds for the first time since before there was television. In the upcoming 2012 election, you can certainly count on even more.
Restoring a government by the people
With the Supreme Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to get to the heart of this problem is to first amend the Constitution.
I believe a democracy is healthy when the crucial battle of ideas is fought out by publicly accountable officeholders, not anonymous special interests over the airwaves. There has to be accountability. Our constitutional amendment would allow Congress to reverse this troubling trend by regulating campaign contributions and expenditures.
This constitutional amendment would:
- Authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures.
- Allow states to regulate such spending at their level.
- Not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead would allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges.
Letting this go unchecked is a threat to our democracy and not what our founders envisioned. Campaigns should be about the best ideas, not the biggest checkbooks. It's time to put elections back in the hands of American voters, not corporations and special interests.