Cohen Joins Call for Constitutional Amendment to End Influence of Money in Politics

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 21, 2015:

Democracy for All Amendment Would Overturn Citizens United and Related Decisions

[WASHINGTON, DC] – On the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling inCitizens United v. FEC, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) joined U.S. Representatives Ted Deutch (FL-21), Donna F. Edwards (MD-04), and Jim McGovern (MA-02) to introduce theDemocracy for All Amendment. This proposed amendment to the United States Constitution would reverse highly controversial Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC andMcCutcheon v. FEC, which have given corporations and America’s wealthiest donors a right to buy unlimited influence in our elections.

“With decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon over the last five years, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates and made it easier for billionaires and corporations to completely drown middle-class Americans out of the political process,” said Congressman Cohen. “The far-reaching, democracy-damaging consequences of these misguided decisions have made it clear that something needs to change. I am proud to help introduce the Democracy for All Amendment to ensure that every citizen’s right to equally participate in our democracy.”

Sponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the U.S. Senate and Reps. Deutch, McGovern, and Edwards in the House of Representatives, the Democracy for All Amendment would reverse Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United by enshrining in the Constitution the right of the American people to enact state and federal laws that regulate spending in public elections.

The Democracy for All Amendment is the end result of extensive collaboration between the House and Senate sponsors of previously proposed constitutional amendments and several grassroots advocacy organizations committed to getting big money out of politics, including Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Free Speech for People, and Common Cause. In addition to overturning recent rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Democracy for All Amendment also reverses the Supreme Court’s controversial holding in Buckley v. Valeo that money spent in elections is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Background

In 2010, the Supreme Court’s highly controversial, 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC held that corporations and other private entities – including 501(C) organizations that do not have to disclose their donors – have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums of money influencing the outcome of public elections.  In his far-reaching opinion for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy held that any election law that goes beyond preventing quid pro quo, bribery-style corruption between candidates and donors risks violating the First Amendment.

The result of the Citizens United decision has been elections dominated by record-breaking spending by Super PACs and unaccountable outside groups funded by corporations and a tiny, extraordinarily wealthy sliver of the American population. In 2012, the first presidential election cycle following the Citizens United decision, 93 percent of Super PAC funding came from 3,318 donors, amounting to less than .01 percent of the U.S. population. Likewise, the 2014 midterm election cycle was the most expensive in history, with record-shattering spending by outside groups emboldened by Citizens United.

In 2014, the Supreme Court awarded America’s wealthiest donors even more influence in our elections with its 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down caps limiting how much money a single donor can contribute in federal elections, allowing one individual to give up to $3.6 million to candidates and various fundraising committees per federal election cycle. In addition, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the majority in McCutcheon went as far as to argue that the influence awarded to donors is not a corrupting quid pro quo transaction, but a First Amendment right.

With elected officials spending more and more of their time raising millions dollars to defend themselves from multimillion smear campaigns from outside groups, it has become harder for everyday Americans living on a budget to be heard in the post-Citizens United era. In addition to concluding that donors receive greater access to legislators than non-donors, several academic studies have now confirmed that elected officials’ growing reliance on large dollar donations have skewed the agenda in Washington towards special interests and away from the priorities of ordinary voters.

Text of the Democracy for All Amendment (H. J. Res. 22)

Section I.  To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

Section II.  Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.

Section III.  Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.