Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is renewing his efforts to rid the country of Citizens United by introducing a new constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.
SECTION 1. Whereas the right to vote in public elections belongs only to natural persons as citizens of the United States, so shall the ability to make contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections belong only to natural persons in accordance with this Article.
SECTION 2. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power of Congress and the States to protect the integrity and fairness of the electoral process, limit the corrupting influence of private wealth in public elections, and guarantee the dependence of elected officials on the people alone by taking actions which may include the establishment of systems of public financing for elections, the imposition of requirements to ensure the disclosure of contributions and expenditures made to influence the outcome of a public election by candidates, individuals, and associations of individuals, and the imposition of content neutra limitations on all such contributions and expenditures.
SECTION 3. Nothing in this Article shall be construed to alter the freedom of the press.
Sen. Sanders had to propose a new amendment because legislation that isn’t acted on by the previous Congress expires at the end of the session. Since Congress didn’t act on the amendment the last time Sanders filed it, he is bringing it back in the new Congress.
The key section of the amendment is Section 2. The second section would halt the Supreme Court’s money is free speech interpretation of the Constitution. The first section of the amendment deals directly with the idea that corporations are people, but the second section overturns the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision that money is speech. The second section of the amendment would throw out the entire basis for the Supreme Court’s rulings in campaign finance cases.
When Sen. Sanders introduced this amendment in 2013, he said, “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, ‘You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed.”
President Obama endorsed the Sanders constitutional amendment in 2012, and explained the rationale behind it, “Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress – to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
The point of the constitutional amendment isn’t passage. The point is to bring attention to the issue of what Citizens United continues to do to our electoral process. The most likely path to overturning Citizens United remains a Democratic presidential victory in the 2016 election. Two of the conservatives Justices who made up the majority in the Citizens United decision are 78 years old. The odds of one or both justices serving the last two years of President Obama’s term and another eight years under another potential Democratic president are slim. (It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the 81 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire before President Obama leaves office.) The Supreme Court is due for a generational change, and if Democrats control the White House, that change could result in a 5-4 liberal leaning court.
In the meantime, Sen. Sanders is leading the fight to inform the American people about the toxic nature of unlimited money in their electoral process. The movement to overturn Citizens United needs and educated population, because outside of the Supreme Court, public pressure is the best way to get the billionaire dollars out of our elections is to have tens of millions of voices demand it.