Durbin: Senate Subcommittee Advances Constiutional Amendment
Legislation would prevent average Americans from being silenced by corporations and special interests
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] –U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which he chairs, advanced a Constitutional Amendment giving Congress and states express authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for political campaigns. The amendment is a response to the tidal wave of secret spending from corporations and Super PACs unleashed by recent decisions of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority that reversed a century of precedent and gutted campaign finance laws.
“Our political system should value the voices of everyday people, as much as it values those able to write the biggest campaign checks,” said Durbin. “This Constitutional Amendment would ensure that elections are based on who has the best ideas, not who can raise the most money. It would empower our elected representatives to set common sense limits on how much wealthy, special interest donors can give to candidates.”
The Constitution Subcommittee has jurisdiction over all amendments to the U.S. Constitution. A markup in the Constitution Subcommittee is the first step in the regular order for Senate consideration of a Constitutional amendment. If the Subcommittee approves the amendment, then the full Judiciary Committee will debate and vote on the amendment, followed by consideration on the Senate floor. This is the first time that the Constitution Subcommittee has considered a Constitutional amendment since 2009.
Senator Durbin’s opening remarks as prepared are available below:
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
Chairman Richard Durbin, Presiding
June 18, 2014
With Citizens United and its progeny, five Supreme Court justices have made clear that they’re on the side of wealthy, well-connected, big money campaign donors. These five Justices have been willing to disregard decades of Supreme Court precedent and ignore the overwhelming majority of Americans in order to open the floodgates to a deluge of secret campaign money from special interest donors.
Every voice should be heard in our democracy. Every perspective should have a seat at the policy making table. But, the size of your bank account does not entitle you to buy every seat at the table, control the agenda, and silence your opponents. Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happening nationwide as wealthy special interests flood our elections with secret campaign cash like never before.
Expanded Influence of Big Business
It’s no surprise that Big Business and wealthy donors have not been shy about telling elected officials, “If you vote against our interests, we’ll spend millions to make sure you never get the chance to vote against us again.” In fact, that’s exactly what one big oil company did in Richmond, California last year.
After the city council enacted new standards to limit pollution, Chevron spent $1.4 million on a city council race, defeating two council members who supported the measure. While $1.4 million was drop in the bucket for a billion dollar company like Chevron, Richmond residents had never before seen that much outside money spent on a city council race. Ordinary citizens and well-intentioned elected officials in Richmond didn’t stand a chance against the $4 million of special interest campaign money that poured into that local race.
Unfortunately, we are seeing wealthy special interests flood our elections with unlimited amounts of cash nationwide. So far this year, spending by outside groups has tripled since the last midterm. They spent $27.6 million in 2010 compared to $97.7 million so far this year. In 2006, the last midterm election before Citizens United, these groups spent just $3.5 million.
In 2012, Super PACs spent more than $130 million on federal elections. And 60% of all Super PAC donations that year came from an elite class of 159 people. In North Carolina, that elite group has just one member. 72% of all outside spending in 2010 was linked to Art Pope, the millionaire conservative activist.
Not to be out done, we learned just this week that the Koch brothers may spend as much as $290 million on elections this year. The Washington Post noted that the amount the 2 brothers are planning to spend is equal to the annual income of about 5,270 average American households.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC eliminated aggregate contribution limits, thereby allowing wealthy individuals to contribute as much as $3.5 million to a party’s candidates each cycle – and contribute a virtually unlimited amount to supportive PACs.
Our political system should value the voices of everyday people, as much as it values those able to write the biggest campaign checks. S.J. Res. 19 would ensure that elections are based on who has the best ideas, not who can raise the most money. It would empower our elected representatives to set common sense limits on how much wealthy, special interest donors can give to candidates. That’s why I urge my colleagues to support S.J. Res 19.
Money Is Not Always Speech
Opponents of this resolution often make two arguments. First, they argue that “all money is speech” and that spending money on elections deserves absolute First Amendment protection. I couldn’t disagree more. Money is not always speech.
As Justice Stevens noted in his recent testimony before the Rules Committee, “Speech is only one of the activities that are financed by campaign contributions and expenditures. Those financial activities should not receive the same constitutional protection as speech itself.” Justice Stevens went on to note that “campaign funds were used to finance the Watergate burglaries – actions that clearly were not protected by the First Amendment.” We need to make sure that there are reasonable, commonsense limits in place to prevent wealthy, special interests from tarnishing our democratic process.
Corporations Are Not People
Opponents also argue that “corporations are people” and that there should be no difference between a human being’s political participation and the political influence wielded by a multinational corporation. Again, I couldn’t disagree more.
As Justice Rehnquist noted in First National Bank of Boston, “the mere creation of a corporation does not invest it with all the liberties enjoyed by natural persons.” Corporations are granted the advantages of perpetual life, property ownership, and limited liability “to enhance [their] efficiency as an economic entity” as Justice Rehnquist noted. But he went on to say, that “those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere.”
We are seeing these “special dangers” manifest themselves in elections held in the wake of Citizens United. The amendment before us would restore the longstanding principle that the voice of average Americans should be heard in the political process – not silenced by corporations and wealthy individuals with the most secret, special interest money.
Corporations have the right to be heard, but they shouldn’t be able to use their resources to drown out the voices of the rest of us. With the protection of a constitutional amendment, the American people, through their elected representatives, will be able to establish commonsense campaign finance rules that 5 activist Supreme Court Justices with no regard for precedent wouldn’t be able to overturn.
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