At this week’s “Take Back the American Dream” conference, Representative Keith Ellison, Missoula City Councilman Jason Weiner, Rev. Barry Hargrove, and Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamie Raskin joined PFAW’s Marge Baker for a panel discussion entitled “Overturning Citizens United: A Movement Mandate,” to discuss the growing grassroots momentum at the local, state and federal levels for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision.
The standing-room only audience heard about a groundbreaking statewide ballot initiative in Montana calling for overturning the Citizens United decision by amending the Constitution, as well the pending Supreme Court decision on whether to hear the Montana State Supreme Court case giving the high court the opportunity to reconsider its decision. Panelists discussed the underlying need for amending the Constitution as the only effective way to reverse the harm caused by the Supreme Court in Citizens United. As put by Jamie Raskin, who is also a PFAW Senior Fellow, “For the sake of ‘We the People’ and our democracy, all corporate money is foreign money.”
The panel examined how this fight has galvanized the progressive movement as a whole, from jumpstarting voter registration drives to increasing general interest in politics and civic engagement.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is commonly criticized by good government advocates because it has led to countless wealthy individuals and corporations making unlimited contributions in unprecedented amounts to groups attempting to sway electoral outcomes, often anonymously. As a result, those with means are able unfairly amplify their voices above that of average Americans.
To appreciate the magnitude of the ruling’s anti-democratic effects, it is important to consider the sheer amount of money that it takes to be a player in the Super-PAC game.
Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s richest men with a far-right personal political agenda, plans to contribute upwards of $71 million in this election cycle, according to the Huffington Post. He is so determined to unseat the president that, after sinking $21.5 million on Super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich’s failed run, he is ready to refocus his efforts and spend similarly astronomical sums to support groups in favor of Mitt Romney and Republican congressional candidates.
His influence is real – $71 million can buy a lot of TV advertising, and ads funded by Super PACs and 501c4 groups can be particularly nasty because they are not officially “accountable” to a candidate. Average Americans, even those who can afford to contribute toward their preferred candidate, simply cannot compete on this scale. According to a friend of Adelson, “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to him.”
In an interview with Forbes, Adelson acknowledged the reality that his extraordinary wealth allows him to influence elections in ways he otherwise couldn’t, in ways which ordinary Americans cannot. He doesn’t even think it’s a good thing, but that hasn’t stopped him: "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections," he said. "But as long as it's doable, I'm going to do it."
The only way to make hijacking our elections no longer “doable” is with a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. To anyone without a spare $100 million, the need couldn’t be clearer.
Two short paragraphs from a Wall Street Journal article about billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s political contributions vividly illustrate the damage to democracy done by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision:
Mr. Adelson has told friends that he intends to give at least $100 million to conservative causes and candidates this election cycle. He contributed some $250,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who just won against a labor union-forced recall election there.
But he has also told his friends and colleagues that he would prefer to keep his contributions under wraps in order to avoid controversy, and will likely focus donations mostly on non-profits affiliated with political PACS, which don’t have to disclose the names of donors. He is expected to donate to the conservative non-profit Crossroads GPS, which was founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, a longtime friend of Mr. Adelson, according to Republican fundraisers.
The article was prompted by recent revelations that Mr. Adelson donated $10 million – the largest amount single donation so far – to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.
Adelson is credited for single-handedly keeping Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign afloat (for a while, at least), and he has long been pressured by Republican fundraisers to support Mr. Romney. Thanks to Citizens United, one very wealthy individual has the power to donate unlimited amounts to super PACS that are unaccountable to the public. And, as is the case with special interests who try to use their enormous wealth to skew elections, Adelson would prefer to keep his activities a secret so no one even knows who’s buying the race. Thanks to Citizens United, he can do exactly that.
A new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition released this morning grades each state's response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the flawed decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited, undisclosed spending by corporations and special interests to influence our elections. The decision forced 22 states to reexamine their laws on the books that limited such expenditures.
The report, "Sunlight State By State After Citizens United," examines how many states either repealed their corporate expenditure bans or declared them unenforceable in the wake of Citizens United. Montana is the notable exception, claiming that its law is still valid. That claim will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Other states have adopted more creative approaches to ensure that the public is informed about the outsized influence in our elections that corporations try to buy with their vast treasuries. For example, Alaska, California and North Carolina require the disclosure of the top contributors to political ads, and Iowa requires that shareholders be directly informed of corporate political spending.
The Corporate Reform Coalition, which is composed of more than 75 good-government groups seeking to combat undisclosed money in elections, evaluated each state's response to the Citizens United decision by scoring disclosure requirements related to political spending. While only a constitutional amendment to reverse the Court's decision can undo the damage of Citizens United, disclosure requirements are an important step toward a more transparent democracy.
AK, CA, CO, HI IA, IL, MA, NC, SD, VT, WA, WI and WV all received the top score. IN, SC, WY, NY and ND received the lowest scores.
You can read the report here.
One of the last acts of Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court bench that he sat on for nearly thirty-five years was to read a summary of his scathing dissent of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, aloud, stating repeatedly, in one form or another that corporations “are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.” Unfortunately, this view, which the vast majority of Americans agree with, and which seems so self-evident, was not held by the majority of the court.
To read the decision aloud was noteworthy; justices typically do so on cases they believe have special merit. And Justice Stevens correctly understood then that Citizens United was just that.
Over two years later, as the effects of Citizens United take hold, as corporate and special interest spending flood the 2012 elections and overwhelm the political process, Justice Stevens revisited the topic at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton Schools of Public Service. As reported by the Huffington Post, Justice Stevens took to the lectern Wednesday to address the inherent legal contradictions that are still outstanding under Justice Kennedy’s lead opinion.
Stevens alluded to President Obama’s apprehension, voiced in his 2010 State of the Union Speech, that the decision would “open the floodgates to special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections.” Stevens stated (emphasis added):
… the former professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School [President Obama] made three important and accurate observations about the Supreme Court majority's opinion …
… third, the logic of the opinion extends to money spent by foreign entities. That is so because the Court placed such heavy emphasis on the premise that the First Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker's identity. Indeed, the opinion expressly stated, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”
Justice Stevens is correct that the logic of the Court’s opinion in Citizens United extends to permitting foreign corporations to make independent expenditures to influence U.S. elections. As he pointed out in his Citizens United dissent, the majority opinion’s failure to take on the issue of foreign corporate spending when striking down portions of the McCain-Feingold Act is a glaring omission, one that exposes the logical flaws in Kennedy’s argument. And as more cases like Bluman v. FEC arise – in which foreign nationals sought, and were denied the right to make electoral contributions and expenditures – the court will need to further clarify its position on why domestic corporations, and not other “speakers” have the right “to speak.” On the subject, Stevens reasoned:
… in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion. For [Justice Alito's] statement that it is "not true" that foreign entities will be among the beneficiaries of Citizens United offers good reason to predict there will not be five votes for such a result when a case arises that requires the Court to address the issue in a full opinion. And, if so, the Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech. It will be necessary to' explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.
It is very possible that a plethora of cases like Bluman v. FEC will reach the district courts. And it’s very possible that the lower courts will begin to poke so many holes in the Citizens United rationale that the Supreme Court will have no choice but to revisit the case.
In total, the candidates in the 2008 presidential election spent just over $1 billion on their campaigns. Just four years ago, President Obama raised $750 million, primarily via small donations from grassroots supporters. But the landscape looks pretty different in 2012: that amount will be surpassed by just a handful of GOP patrons and super PACs alone.
Made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, dark money organizations like Restore Our Future and American Crossroads will raise and spend virtually unlimited amounts to prop up Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket. Politico notes that American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, a Karl Rove brainchild, is expected to spend up to $300 million. That’s almost as much as John McCain spent on his entire 2008 run.
The bulk of campaign expenditures go to advertising – and $1 billion certainly buys a lot of airtime. Thanks to Citizens United, this elite group of financiers can buy the loudest, most far-reaching voice in the 2012 elections. The amount collected by Super PACs and 501 c(4)s dramatically dwarfs traditional party and direct-campaign fundraising, which is the mechanism by which the grassroots are able to contribute to the process. The contrast is stark:
Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent twice as much on the air as the campaign did in the thick of the primaries: Through March, the campaign had put $16.7 million into TV, while ROF shelled out $33.2 million.
In Florida, the super PAC outspent the campaign, $8.8 million to $6.7 million. (The campaign can get more spots per dollar because of more favorable rates.) In Michigan, it was $2.3 million to $1.5 million. In Ohio, ROF outspent the campaign, $2.3 million to $1.5 million.
The Citizens United decision has granted the 0.01% more leeway to try to buy our democracy than ever before. The sheer numbers make the need for constitutional remedies to overturn that decision and restore the balance of influence in our elections to everyday Americans is more apparent than ever.
If there was any question that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United skews the balance of influence in our elections to the rich, an analysis by Rolling Stone shows that the real beneficiaries of the decision are really the very very rich. This profile of the 16 donors who have given at least $1 million to super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, including hedge fund managers, hotel tycoons, oil barons and of course, William Koch, reveals who is making the biggest impact in the presidential election.
In a democracy, we should be electing those who represent vast swaths of the American people. But one thing is clear: the special interests propping up Romney’s campaign have very little in common with average Americans. As Rolling Stone notes:
Most of the megadonors backing his candidacy are elderly billionaires: Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy – and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent. Romney has firmly joined the ranks of the economic nutcases who spout the lie of trickle-down economics.
How are these individuals able to throw so much of their wealth into the race? Essentially, Citizens United allows individuals and corporations to skirt the caps on contributions to campaign treasuries by funneling money through entities like Super PACs and 501c4 organizations:
Under the new rules, the richest men in America are plying candidates with donations far beyond what Congress intended. "They can still give the maximum $2,500 directly to the campaign – and then turn around and give $25 million to the Super PAC," says Trevor Potter, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. A single patron can now prop up an entire candidacy, as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson did with a $20 million donation to the Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich.
It’s unlikely that these donors are throwing so much money into the race solely for bragging rights – they certainly have agendas of their own. Most of the individuals profiled in the article stand to benefit from Romney agenda: more tax cuts to the rich, lax regulation of Wall Street and other industries, a hamstrung E.P.A, lucrative government contracts – and their outsized contributions demonstrate their belief that money buys influence. Citizens United exacerbated this unfortunate reality. At least that can be fixed by the people, with an amendment to the Constitution.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkely (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM) and others took to the floor to speak about the state of campaign finance today, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Although the only way to completely fix the decision would be for the Supreme Court to reverse itself or to pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 (“Disclose 2.0”) is critically important legislation that would bring much-needed transparency to the political process.
Sen. Whitehouse began by analyzing the dramatic increase in unregulated, anonymous spending in our elections. “In the 2010 elections, the first after Citizens United, there was more than a four-fold increase in expenditures from Super PACS and other outside groups compared to 2006, with nearly three-fourths of political advertising coming from sources that were prohibited in 2006.” He noted that outside groups are vastly outspending the campaigns themselves – yet there is so much overlap between campaigns and PACs that their differences are hard to distinguish.
“Our campaign finance system is broken. Action is required to fix it,” Sen. Whitehouse said. “Americans are disgusted by campaigns that succeed or fail based on how many billionaires the candidates have in their pockets.”
Senator Udall made the case that amending the Constitution to ensure that elections remain about the quality of ideas instead of the quantity of dollars spent is a worthy cause: “We cannot truly fix this broken system until we undo the flawed premise that spending money on elections is the same thing as exercising free speech. That can only be achieved in two ways: the Court can overturn Buckley and subsequent decisions based on it, something the current court seems highly unlikely to do; or we can amend the Constitution to not only overturn the previous bad Court decision, but also to prevent future ones. Until then, we will fall short of the real reform that is needed.”
“I know amending the Constitution is difficult, and it should be,” continued Sen. Udall, who then quoted PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin: "'A constitutional amendment always seems impossible, until it becomes inevitable.’” Sen. Udall also noted the growing grassroots movement that has led to more than 200 state and local resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment that have been adopted around the country.
Senator Jeff Merkley engaged in a colloquy with Senator Whitehouse, focusing on the first three words of the preamble to the Constitution, “We the People.” The senators discussed the fundamental conflict with that fundamental value posed by the Citizens United decision. Watch below:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to take full advantage of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to push its right-wing agenda, according to its president, Tom Donohue. As reported by USA Today, Donohue told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor earlier this week that under that decision, the Chamber can and will run “an aggressive program” and will not disclose its donors.
Donohue also suggested that estimates that the business group would spend $50 million on the 2012 elect were too low. Thanks to Citizens United, individuals, corporations and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce can make unlimited, often anonymous expenditures on ads supporting or attacking candidates. Until that decision is overturned, disclosure rules would at least shed light on the process and give Americans insight into who is using their wealth to disproportionately influence elections.
But that’s not how Donohue sees it: “The disclosure thing…is all about intimidation.” While requiring disclosure might makes sense on the surface, he said, “in this instance you become a target.”
Americans deserve to know who’s trying to buy their elections. Even far-right Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia knows that "Democracy requires a certain amount of civic courage." Donohue’s demand that corporate entities be allowed to pour money into elections without having to show their faces makes his agenda perfectly clear: it’s not about democracy or free speech, it’s about maximizing corporate profits by any means necessary.
As the Supreme Court decides whether or not to hear a challenge to Montana’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures to affect state elections, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) urged the court to let the Montana law stand, according to a report in Roll Call. Since that decision was handed down, super PACs have spent close to $100 million in this election. It’s time to take another look at the system and restore the balance of power to the people.
In the wake of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unprecedented, unlimited corporate spending on politics, municipalities across the country have enacted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Passed before the Supreme Court’s decision, Montana has refused to stop enforcing its clean elections laws. Three corporations have filed a challenge, claiming the law is invalid under the Court’s ruling.
The Court can and should use this case as a means to full re-examine the Citizens United decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that the case presents the Court with an opportunity to re-examine the Citizens United case. “A petition for certiorari will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway,” Justices Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote in a statement.
Senator McCain is a longstanding proponent of campaign finance reform, and Senator Whitehouse is a supporter of a constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. Together they filed an amicus brief, echoing the justices’ concerns: “Evidence from the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles has demonstrated that so-called independent expenditures create a strong potential for corruption and the appearance thereof. The news confirms, daily, that existing campaign finance rules purporting to provide for ‘independence’ and ‘disclosure’ in fact provide neither.” Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and others also filed briefs urging the Court to either let the Montana ban stand or re-examine the Citizens United Ruling. A decision as to whether to hear the case is expected by June.
The Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that corporations should be able spend their vast treasuries on elections. The State of Montana is providing a welcome chance to fix that mistake.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, election watchers have predicted that the influx of unaccountable and often anonymous election spending would lead to a dramatic increase in dirty, dishonest attack ads. A report by the New York Times confirms those fears. High-profile Republican strategists for a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts created a proposal titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” which lays out an aggressive character attack against the President. Focusing on his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the ads will seek to portray the President as unfit to lead because of his formative experiences – a strategy that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, refused to authorize. Even Mitt Romney has avoided such attacks, believing that they would backfire – but unaccountable super PACs are not necessarily taking it off the table:
“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”
How can one person’s extreme opinion make its way to aerial banners flying over the Democratic Convention, outdoor advertisements and television screens across the country?
“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” said Brian Baker, the president and general counsel to Mr. Ricketts’ super PAC, called the Ending Spending Action Fund. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”
Thanks to his wealth and Citizens United, he can do just that. Unfortunately, average Americans don’t have this luxury, and our democracy suffers greatly as a result.
Following the outcry in response to today’s article, Mr. Ricketts issued a statement claiming he had never approved the plan and disavows the type of politics it represents, saying that the proposal “was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.” Nonetheless, the critical harm posed by Citizens United is clear. Just because Mr. Ricketts chose not to run this attack ad doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United to protect our democracy from the lopsided influence of wealthy special interests is even more clear today.
“Stand By Your Ad” Law Would Shine Light on Super PAC Abuses
Hartford, CT. – A coalition of good government groups including Common Cause, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Demos, Credo Action, Democracy 21 and the New Progressive Alliance are calling on Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy to sign H.B. 5556, “Changes to Campaign Finance Laws and other Election Laws,” which just passed just passed the General Assembly. The bill would require public disclosure of major corporate and individual donors to Super PACs and other independent groups, bringing increased transparency and accountability to Connecticut’s elections.
The bill would strengthen existing “Stand By Your Ad” provisions, which require political ads to disclose the five top contributors. Additionally, individuals and corporations would no longer be able to use intermediaries to shield campaign contributions from public view.
“Since Citizens United opened the floodgates to massive amounts of undisclosed, unaccountable political spending, Connecticut has been on the forefront of the effort to limit the outsized influence that corporations and special interests have on our democracy,” said Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause Connecticut. “By signing H.B. 5556 into law, the Governor can help us take an important step toward fairer elections. This bill would protect our candidates from anonymous attacks and corrupting ads. No longer would wealthy special interests be able to take advantage of the system by using shadowy front groups to evade Connecticut law and hijack our democratic system.
“We need H.B. 5556 to take effect and strengthen Connecticut’s disclosure laws before the 2012 elections. Secretive political spending has already had a major impact on Connecticut’s citizens, so we must act now to protect the integrity of our elections.”
Washington, DC – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings to examine pending proposals to amend the constitution to remedy Citizens United, committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced today. The hearings will be led by Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Richard Durbin (D-IL) and take place on July 17. During the 112th Congress, 24 U.S. senators have sponsored or co-sponsored one of 13 proposed constitutional amendments aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision.
“The American people expect our democratic government to put the people’s interests first,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “But, since Citizens United, we’ve seen unprecedented amounts of money flooding into our political system and giving undue influence to corporations and special interests. The only way to address this assault on our democracy is by amending the Constitution. I commend Senator Leahy, Senator Durbin and the Constitution Subcommittee for taking an important step to advance the debate about how to best return the balance of power to the people.”
The vast majority of Americans oppose Citizens United, and a grassroots movement calling on public officials to take action is growing stronger. This year, 51 progressive organizations submitted a letter to congressional leaders calling for these very hearings, and more than 1,000 public officials from 41 states are already on record in support of constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. More information on the effort to amend the Constitution can be found at www.united4thepeople.org.
Just how much has Citizens United altered the electoral landscape? While the overall amount of outside money in politics has risen dramatically with each passing election cycle, the Citizens United decision eliminated restrictions on corporate and special-interest spending to influence or elections. The result shows that the new rules have stacked the deck in favor of Republicans.
This chart from the Center for Responsive Politics shows how, while spending by outside groups has been on the rise since the 90’s, it was not until 2010 Supreme Court decision that conservatives saw a sudden, major advantage in outside-expenditure spending on their behalf:
Total Liberal vs. Conservative Outside Spending, Excluding Party Committees
As Ian Milllhiser at Think Progress notes, the much of the 2012 spending on Republican candidates went to intra-party contests during the primaries, though it will likely continue through the general election. But the overall trend is clear: As a result of the Citizens United, Republicans will continue to enjoy outsized spending on their behalf by corporations.
Until a constitutional amendment can overturn Citizens United, progressives around the country are working on various legislative workarounds to address the flood of corporate money being spent to influence our elections. While only a constitutional amendment can restore to the American people the authority to regulate such spending, there are several ways to compel companies to disclose their political spending to the public and bring much-needed accountability to corporations that use their vast treasuries to sway our elections.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the rulemaking authority to require corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders. This is significant because so many Americans are shareholders in one form or another: if you own a 401(k) or similar retirement account, you’re a type of shareholder; and the companies you invest with could be spending your money to support candidates or fund attack ads – all without your knowledge.
The American people have told the SEC to do its job. Yesterday, we broke the record for total number of comments submitted to the SEC on a particular rule: 178,000 Americans have written to the SEC, telling them to protect Americans from the undue influence of wealthy corporations and special interests. PFAW supporters contributed a sizeable chunk of about 24,000 signatures to the effort.
The Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of progressive organizations including PFAW, Common Cause, Public Citizens, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending and others has been pushing a consumer-driven campaign to ask corporations to refrain from engaging in political spending. We are also pursuing legislative solutions like the Shareholder Protection Act as well as other means to help shine light on the influence of corporate money in our democracy.
Recent polling indicates the vast majority of Americans believe that corporations and special interests have too much sway in our elections – a whopping 85 % of voters said that corporations have too much influence over the political system, and 93% said that average citizens have too little. Across all parties, a full 62% specifically oppose Citizens United, the deeply flawed 2010 Supreme Court Decision that opened the floodgates to massive corporate and special interest spending in our elections.
This deep disapproval is manifest in the growing grassroots movement taking hold across the country fighting for a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision. While there’s a long way to go, the people represented in these polls are making their voice heard, and our elected officials are taking action.
The 89 members of Congress who have endorsed one of the 13 federal resolutions to overturn Citizens United introduced thus far during the 112th Congress are acting on this sentiment. These proposed amendments are diverse, and are reflective of the robust and serious debate Americans are having across the country on what constitutional approach would best solve the problem. In addition, as significant is the groundswell of support at the local and state level that far transcends this total. To name just a few, the City Councils of New York City, NY, Oakland, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Albany, NY, Missoula, MT, and Boulder, CO have all adopted their own resolutions, as have the legislatures of states like Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont (and in Maryland, where the state Constitution does not permit the passage of non-binding resolutions, a majority of legislators in both houses have signed a letter calling for a constitutional amendment). When given the chance to vote directly, the citizens of 64 towns across the state of Vermont have passed ballot measures supporting a constitutional amendment.
So far, 91 million Americans are represented by public officials who have declared their support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. 24 Senators, representing 75 million constituents, have sponsored or cosponsored a version of an amendment. Across the Capitol, 65 members of the House of Representatives, representing an additional 16 million people.
Progress is being made, but there’s still more work to do to fill these maps with dark shades of yellow and green. But this is a “movement moment” – and with the ever-increasing support of public officials, advocacy organizations and citizen activists, it can be done.
PFAW joined members of Congress, state and local officials, advocacy organizations and concerned citizens for a Capitol Hill summit to amplify the call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped usher in unprecedented levels of corporate spending to influence our elections.
The speakers recounted the toll that Citizens United has taken on our democracy, as their colleagues must contend with the outsized influence that wealthy special interests hold over the political system, and how it is absolutely imperative for Congress to have the authority to regulate campaign contributions and require disclosure. While there are many approaches under consideration, it was clear to all that amending the Constitution is a necessary step to restore our democracy. So far, 13 constitutional amendments have been introduced in the current session.
It’s a long road to ratification, but there is a rapidly growing grassroots movement taking hold across the country to get this done. State Representatives and City Councilmen took to the podium to share their constituents’ enthusiasm for a constitutional amendment, and many states and cities across the country have already adopted resolutions calling for such an amendment.
The summit concluded with a call for public officials to sign the Declaration for Democracy, a simple statement of support for amending the Constitution “to protect the integrity of our elections and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.”
Here is a video and photos of the event.
PFAW’s Marge Baker opens the Summit as members of Congress, local and state officials and activists look on. “We the people means all the people, not just the powerful and privileged.”
PFAW’s Diallo Brooks introduces several local government officials as Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) signs the Declaration for Democracy.
Maryland State Senator and PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin describes the Supreme Court’s flawed logic in the Citizens United decision. Quoting Justice White: “The state need not let its own creature [corporations] devour it.”
Rep. Keith Ellison watches as PFAW’s Marge Baker signs the Declaration.
The Declaration for Democracy: “I declare my support for amending the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people, undermined by Citizens United and related cases, to protect the integrity of our elections and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.”
To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Date: April 18, 2012
Re: The American People Reject Citizens United. Whose Representatives are Listening?
91 million Americans are represented by one of the 89 members of Congress supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, according to a new analysis by People For the American Way. To date, a total of 24 U.S. Senators and 65 U.S. Representatives have sponsored or co-sponsored an amendment to the constitution seeking to undo the damage caused by the flawed decision that paved the way for unprecedented levels of corporate and special interest influence in our elections, as tracked by United For the People.
Over 75 million people live in the states represented by pro-amendment senators, according to 2010 census data. In states still awaiting senatorial support, an additional 16 million people live in congressional districts represented by a member of the House who has signed on to a proposed amendment, bringing the total to 91 million. Considered separately, the 65 supporting members of the House represent 42 million Americans.
The Citizens United decision is immensely unpopular among voters, and a majority of Americans support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. In fact, a 2010 PFAW poll showed that 85% of voters say corporations have too much influence over the political system, while 93% said that average citizens have too little. More recent polling commissioned by Public Campaign shows that these concerns translate to a full 62 percent across all political parties that oppose Citizens United, with nearly half strongly in opposition. The survey also found that more than three-quarters of voters say that it is important for candidates to make campaign finance reform a key election issue, and two-thirds of voters consider reducing the influence of lobbyists and money in politics to be an important factor in their vote.
The 89 members of Congress who have endorsed one of the 13 federal resolutions to overturn Citizens United introduced thus far during the 112th Congress are acting on this sentiment. These proposed amendments are diverse, reflective of the robust and serious debate Americans are having across the country on what constitutional approach would best solve the problem. In addition, as significant is the groundswell of support at the local and state level that far transcends this total. To name just a few, the City Councils of New York City, NY, Oakland, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Albany, NY, Missoula, MT, and Boulder, CO have all adopted their own resolutions, as have the legislatures of states like Hawaii and New Mexico, and when given the chance to vote directly, the citizens of 64 towns across the state of Vermont have passed ballot measures supporting a constitutional amendment.
The groundswell of support for a constitutional amendment among the American people represents a “movement moment,” and members of Congress who are taking action – on behalf of 91 million constituents so far – are on the right track. A constitutional amendment is a profound but necessary measure to restore the balance of influence in our elections to the American people. The issue of undue corporate and special interests in our democracy is a big problem that requires a big solution. Measures that require more disclosure of the sources of the big money in politics, call for public financing of elections or require greater corporate accountability to shareholders for corporate political spending would all mitigate the problems caused by the Court’s radical decision in Citizens United. But because the Court rested its decision in that case on flawed constitutional grounds, the only way to fully remedy the decision is by amending the Constitution to ensure that Americans’ voices are not overwhelmed by massive corporate and special interest spending in elections.
A broad and diverse group of organizations, under the banner of United For the People, are pressing creative ways for activists and public officials to engage on this issue. Activists are encouraging local, state and federal public officials, even those who haven’t yet decided on specific amendment language, to support these efforts by joining the simple call for constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United and related cases. Officials can sign the simple declaration of support here. Activists across the country are encouraged to take the declaration to the public officials that represent them and encourage them to sign.