Udall Introduces Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Finance Reform
Amendment would restore authority back to the people and states
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall today introduced a constitutional amendment that would restore authority back to Congress, individual states and the American people to regulate campaign finance.
The constitutional amendment would reverse dangerous Supreme Court decisions like Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United and rein in the unprecedented flood of secret money in the campaign finance system. It would allow Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money, including so-called "Super PAC" independent expenditures, while giving states the same authority to regulate campaign finance at their level.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and several other cosponsors joined Udall to introduce the amendment today, including Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who spoke with Udall at a press conference on Capitol Hill. Video of the press conference can be found here; photos are here and audio here.
"James Madison argued that the U.S. Constitution should be amended only on ‘great and extraordinary occasions'," Udall said. "I believe we have reached one of those occasions. Our elections no longer focus on the best ideas, but the biggest bank accounts, and Americans' right to free speech should not be determined by their net worth. I am proud to be introducing this amendment to change the way we do business in Washington and get money out of a broken system that puts special interest over people."
"People in Colorado and across the country are tired of cycle after cycle of limitless anonymous spending on campaign ads. It overwhelms the airwaves," Bennet said. "The Citizens United decision did a huge disservice to the American people's right to know who is trying to sway their vote. A campaign finance structure that increases transparency will help restore confidence in our democracy. This amendment gets to the heart of that effort."
The Supreme Court laid the groundwork for a broken system many years ago, which is addressed specifically by the Udall and Bennet amendment. In 1976, the Court held in Buckley v. Valeo that restricting independent campaign expenditures violates the First Amendment right to free speech, essentially saying that money and speech are the same. Building on this flawed precedent, the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations deserve the same free speech protections as individual Americans. Since then, corporations have been able to spend unlimited amounts of money on political activity and mostly negative campaign advertising. With the Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to address the root cause of this problem is to give Congress clear authority in the Constitution to regulate the campaign finance system.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Super PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups spent $1 billion in unlimited contributions from millionaires, billionaires, corporations, labor unions and other special interest groups to influence the 2012 federal elections. As much as $400 million of this total came in the form of secret donations.
"Money and free speech are not the same thing, and it is a tortured logic to say so," Udall added. "We can't fix this broken system until we undo the false premise - that spending money on elections is the same thing as the constitutional right of free speech. There are only two ways to change this: The Supreme Court could reverse itself, which is not likely, or we can amend the Constitution, which would overturn bad decisions and prevent future ones. I believe the growing momentum demonstrates that this is the right time for us to act."
Since the Citizens United case, 15 states - 30 percent of the U.S. - and more than 400 local governments have called on Congress to overturn Citizens United through ballot initiatives, resolutions or other measures, showing strong public support for reform. During the 2012 legislative session, both the New Mexico House and state Senate passed resolutions calling on Congress to send an amendment to the states for ratification.
In 2012, voters in Colorado and Montana approved the first statewide initiatives supporting such an amendment, which passed with more than 70 percent approval.
A poll conducted after the 2012 election by the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps and Public Campaign Action Fund found that 78 percent of Americans say "there is too much big money spent on political campaigns and elections today and reasonable limits should be placed on campaign contributions and spending."
Last Congress, Udall and Bennet led the fight for a similar constitutional amendment, which garnered 25 cosponsors. Last July, Udall testified in support of the amendment at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights titled "Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs". Click here for video and photos of Udall of that hearing.
Original cosponsors of the Udall-Bennet amendment include Sens. Harkin (D-IA), Schumer (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Whitehouse (D-RI), Tester (D-MT), Boxer (D-CA), Coons (D-DE), King (I-ME), Murphy (D-CT), Wyden (D-OR), Franken (D-MN), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Mark Udall (D-CO).
The proposed constitutional amendment:
- Restores authority to the American people, through Congress and the states, to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns
- Allows states to regulate campaign spending at their level;
- Includes the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, like those from Super PACs;
- Would not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead would allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges;
- Expressly provides that any regulation authorized under the amendment cannot limit the freedom of the press.
The full text of the legislation can be found below or by clicking here.