Senate Dems Take Aim At First Amendment

By:  Jack Kenny
05/01/2014
       
Senate Dems Take Aim At First Amendment

U.S. Senate Democrats want a constitutional amendment to overturn campaign spending.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate are planning a vote sometime this year on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on campaign spending, The Hill reported Wednesday. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) calls for amending the Constitution to negate high court rulings in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and McCutcheon v. FEC.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the court ruled in favor of a non-profit organization that had sought to advertise its unfavorable documentary film about Hillary Clinton shortly before the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries of 2008, when then-Sen. Clinton (D-N.Y.) was a candidate for her party's nomination for president. The court struck down provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that prohibited independent expenditure ads that mention a candidate within 30 days of a primary or 90 days of a general election in which that candidate is running. By a 5-4 vote, the justices declared that the freedom of speech guarantee of the First Amendment prohibits restrictions on expenditures by individuals or corporations, including non-profit corporations.

In last month's McCutcheon decision, five justices ruled against limits on how much a donor may spend in total in contributions to a number of candidates in any year's federal elections.

"The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections," said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in announcing the amendment plan. "That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now." Schumer predicted that the vote would take place by year's end, and he called on Republicans to join with Democrats in supporting the amendment so "the wealthy can't drown out middle-class voices in our Democracy."

Udall's bill calls for an amendment that would authorize both Congress and state legislatures to enact limits on fundraising and spending for and by candidates for federal office and on independent expenditures by outside groups. It would deny the judiciary power to overturn such legislation. If passed by two thirds of each house of Congress, the measure would have to be ratified by three fourths of the states to become an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is unlikely to survive the first of those tests however, since congressional Republicans generally oppose campaign finance restrictions.

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