On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Tom Udall and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a resolution calling for a new Amendment to the United States Constitution.
They have named it the “Democracy for All” amendment, and, if passed, it would be the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution.
The 28th Amendment?
The proposed amendment is meant to keep big money out of politics by overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United V. FEC, which allowed corporations and big donors to spend unlimited amounts of money during election campaigns.
The proposed amendment sounds nice in theory. After all, who doesn’t want to stop corporations from persuading politicians with giant donations?
Except the proposed amendment isn’t as good as it sounds.
By passing this amendment, Congress and the states would be undoing parts of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Part of the rationale for the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case was to protect the free speech rights of donors. They claimed that by preventing donors from contributing their desired donation, they would be limiting their speech via their use of money.
The Democrats were outraged by the court’s decision that essentially equated money with free speech, and they have been trying to undo the ruling ever since.
Now they are taking action to do just that.
A Long Time Coming
In his 2010 State of the Union, President Barack Obama complained about the Court’s decision—with the justices of the Supreme Court sitting in the front row.
Justice Samuel Alito was not impressed.
At the time of the speech, The New York Times reported, “before he began his attack on a Supreme Court decision not yet a week old, Mr. Obama added a few words that had not been in the prepared text. The new preface—“with all due deference to separation of powers”—seemed to acknowledge that he was aiming unusual rhetorical fire at several Supreme Court justices sitting right in front of him. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. one of the justices in the majority in the decision under attack, shook his head as he heard the president’s summary of Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission, and he appeared to mouth the words ‘not true.’”
Nine years later, the case still riles Democrats.
I share their concerns, but not their solution.
Honestly, their argument is compelling…to a point.
Writing in Newsweek, the President of American Promise, Jeff Clements, defended the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling.
He wrote, “Data shows that because money reigns, most Americans cannot participate meaningfully in determining candidates and election results. Wealthy Americans and corporate interests hold wildly disproportionate influence and they typically have different policy preferences than the average voter. Incumbents raise more money because they can reward donors and punish enemies, and they usually win, no matter how frustrated the voters may be.”
It is a compelling argument, but the rationale violates the First Amendment. Corporate money also doesn’t disenfranchise voters; each American citizen over the age of 18 gets exactly one vote. It is not the government’s job to decide how corporations and donors get to use their money. It’s their money, and they have the right to spend it however they want as long as the spending doesn’t violate the law.
The new law would also hurt unions who give generously to Democrat candidates. I can’t imagine those unions will be pleased by the proposed amendment.
The REAL Solution
If the Federal Government was smaller and spent far less money, there would be less of a need for lobbyists and special interest money. Imposing term limits could also help diminish the role of money in politics.
Reducing the size of government departments and employees, while at the same time increasing the number of congressmen, could be more effective than limiting contributions.
That’s right, I said it: adding more congressman would actually be a good thing.
The Founders originally envisioned there being more congressmen than the current 435. Each district was meant to be small so that a given district’s representative would be able to better represent his constituents. Also, by increasing the number of representatives in the House, it would be harder for lobbyists to target specific lawmakers.
The state of New Hampshire has done this already, and it has been successful.
The states could come together and call an Article V Convention of States to propose amendments that would limit the spending power and size of the federal government, as well as pass term limits for Congress and other government officials.
These are all solutions that don’t require undoing Citizens United. Both parties should consider these in order to limit the power of money in politics without violating the First Amendment rights of donors.
However, we are talking about “The Swamp,” and the swamp won’t be easily drained. It is in both parties’ interest to keep the status quo.