To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Date: September 16, 2014
Subject: Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Decisions Like Citizens United Debated in U.S. Senate, 55 Senators in Support
On Thursday, September 11th the U.S. Senate had a historic vote. After a week of debate about the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and allow legislators to put reasonable limits on money in elections, 54 senators went on record to stand up for the voices of everyday Americans. Including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), an amendment cosponsor who was not able to be there for the vote, there are now 55 senators on record in support of the amendment.
The 55 senators in support put amendment proponents only 12 short of the 67 votes needed to pass a constitutional amendment through the Senate. While no Republican senators voted in support of the amendment, Washington D.C. appears to be the only place in the nation where the issue is partisan. Past amendments that similarly attempted to restore the ability of Congress and the states to enact reasonable campaign finance regulations until recently enjoyed bipartisan support from Congress and an amendment continues to be widely popular among the general public. According to a recent poll, nearly three-fourths of voters, including Republicans by a margin of 26%, are in favor of a constitutional amendment to limit the influence of big money in our elections.
This vote in the Senate marks an important milestone, with a majority of senators responding to a grassroots movement calling for an amendment to curtail the influence of money in politics. Less than five years after the Supreme Court made its radical decision in Citizens United, this proposed 28th Amendment has already had a majority vote on the Senate floor. This victory resulted from a massive mobilization of grassroots activists and progressive organizations, a coalition consisting of civil rights, social justice, environmental and labor advocacy groups.
Amending the Constitution is not a simple or fast process, as well it shouldn’t be. Yet, nearly every generation has amended the Constitution to address some of the most serious issues of their day. Money in politics is the underlying problem that prevents progress on many of the major issues of this generation, such as climate change, healthcare, minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. This effort will likely take years, perhaps even decades.
Many inside the Beltway media have portrayed the Democracy for All amendment in a cynical light. What Washington insiders fail to grasp is that this is the debate that everyday Americans want to have, and this is the beginning of a long-term, concerted effort to protect American democracy.
The New York Times Editorial Board made this point in an editorial last week:
“They are not under the illusion that it will become the 28th Amendment soon, if ever. But their willingness to undertake a long and difficult effort shows the importance they attach to restoring fairness to American politics by reducing the influence of big money … and amending the Constitution should not be taken lightly. It is a last resort to fix a grave civic problem. But the backers of this amendment recognize that the nature of American democracy is at stake.”
We urge you to use the opportunity created by this historic vote to tell the story of the grassroots movement to get big money out of politics and to hold your senators accountable for their votes. To aid in that process, below you will find a list of facts about the grassroots movement to overturn Citizens United, as well as links to some of the media coverage of the Senate vote.
Facts About the Grassroots Movement for an Amendment
• Americans have protested the Citizen United decision consistently for nearly five years including 150 rallies in 41 states on the day of the McCutcheon decision.
• 16 states and 550 cities have passed resolutions urging Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution.
• 3.2 million Americans have signed petitions calling for an amendment.
• 159 local, state, and federal Republicans have criticized Citizens United and/or called for an amendment, including former Senator Alan Simpson who endorsed the Democracy for All Amendment on the first day of debate, and former communications director to President George W. Bush, Mark McKinnon, who said of the amendment, “We have to battle [money in politics] on every front every single day.”
• A diverse coalition of citizen organizations and small business leaders representing millions of Americans have issued statements of support.
Media Coverage (Full list here)
Amendment to Cut Political Cash by New York Times Editorial Board:
“Republicans, fearful of deflating their cushion of cash, are trying to portray the amendment as an assault on the Bill of Rights. But writing unlimited checks on behalf of politicians was never part of the American birthright. This measure defines protected “speech” as it had been understood in the First Amendment for 185 years until the Buckley decision: actual words uttered or written by natural persons, not money spent, and certainly not from corporate treasuries.”
Bipartisan case for a Constitutional amendment on campaign finance by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Sen. Tom Udall in The Hill:
“Our founders...would be appalled by corporate spending in elections and unlimited personal donations by billionaires. The solution is to clarify the Constitution so that the people may decide how, when and why to regulate campaign finance…Amending the Constitution is difficult – as it should be – but it is long past time to have an honest and thoughtful national dialogue about our broken electoral process and how we voters can fix it.”
This Is a ‘Pivotal Moment’ for the Movement to Remove Big Money From Politics by John Nichols at The Nation:
“Make no mistake, there will be a Twenty-Eighth Amendment; there must be if the American experiment is to survive as anything akin to a democratic republic. As with past amendments, however, this initial proposal for updating the Constitution will likely be altered—with language strengthened or weakened based on the ability of mass movements to place demands for more or less radical change.”
WASHINGTON – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to support SJ Res. 19, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and the states to regulate money in elections. It is expected to have a full Senate floor vote this fall.
People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“This vote is an important step forward for the movement to take back our democracy from billionaires and corporations. It’s also good news for the overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans who want to see our elected officials loosen big money’s grip on our democracy.
“In the wake of cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the voices of everyday Americans are being overpowered by the money of special interests. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. People understand that. Americans have made it clear that all of our voices should be heard. We look forward to a full Senate vote on this important piece of legislation.”
An edit memo released last month by People For the American Way explains how SJ Res. 19 would restore the First Amendment and strengthen our democracy. PFAW submitted testimony about SJ Res. 19 to the Senate Judiciary Committee and worked with allies to deliver over two million petitions in support of an amendment. PFAW also joined sixty other organizations in a letter urging senators to support the proposed amendment.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker is available for interviews with the press. To arrange an interview, please contact Layne Amerikaner at firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-467-4999. For more information on PFAW’s Government By the People work, click here.
The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”
People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.
WASHINGTON — Today the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will mark up SJ Res 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections following the Supreme Court’s damaging decisions in cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC.
People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“Today’s historic vote will be a major step forward for the national movement to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests. The American people have made clear that the number of zeroes in your bank account should not determine the strength of your voice in our democracy. All of our voices should be heard, not just those of billionaires.
“In the wake of Citizens United, McCutcheon, and other Supreme Court decisions, the 28th Amendment would allow everyday Americans to take back our political system from corporations and the super-rich.”
Earlier this month, People For the American Way released an edit memo on how SJ Res.19 would restore the First Amendment and strengthen our democracy. PFAW also submitted testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on June 3 and joined with ally groups to deliver more than two million petitions in support of an amendment.
People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker is available for interviews with the press. To arrange an interview, please contact Layne Amerikaner at email@example.com / 202-467-4999.
As the news of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss last night to Tea Party challenger David Brat sinks in, Brat’s anti-immigrant extremism is increasingly coming into the spotlight. Today Right Wing Watch wrote that Brat actively sought out the endorsement of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant hate group whose leader has suggested that violence may be necessary to quell President Obama’s supposed war on “white America.” Brat campaigned on the claim that a vote for Cantor was “a vote for amnesty.”
But there is another aspect to the race also worth paying attention to: Brat’s focus on corruption in Washington. This morning our friends at Public Campaign pointed out that Brat, who was vastly outspent by Cantor, consistently made speaking out against political corruption a part of his campaign. In his victory speech, Brat said to supporters: “What you proved tonight was dollars don’t vote — you do.”
The overwhelming majority of Americans (92 percent of voters, according to a November 2013 poll) think it’s important for elected officials do more to reduce money’s influence on elections — a statistic we often highlight in our work for urgently-needed campaign finance reforms. What last night’s news brings to the foreground is the obvious fact that this 92 percent cannot possibly reflect Americans of only one political leaning. A commitment to fighting corruption and the outsized influence of big money in politics is a deeply-held belief of people of all political stripes, whatever their other beliefs may be.
This morning Politico proclaimed, “Big money couldn’t save Eric Cantor.” And despite Brat’s extremism, there is something hopeful about the fact that people can fight back against the tidal wave of cash flooding our electoral system. To be sure, this outcome is the exception rather than the rule. More than nine times in ten, the better-financed congressional candidate wins. In the post-Citizens United and post-McCutcheon campaign finance landscape, to pretend that money doesn’t matter hugely in the outcome of elections — and in who has access to and influence over politicians once the election is over — is to be willfully blind.
But it’s also important to be reminded that when voters set their minds to it, they still have the power to reshape our nation — for good or ill.
Nearly two years ago, President Obama caused a splash by expressing support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Asked during the online forum what he was going to do to “end the corrupting influence of money in politics,” President Obama put the spotlight on the movement for a constitutional amendment by explicitly mentioning the amendment strategy:
Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it).
A new book released this week by POLITICO reporter Ken Vogel shows that President Obama had been privately discussing an amendment months before his public comment in August 2012. Vogel’s book describes President Obama telling Democratic donors in February of that year:
“Now, I taught constitutional law…I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it.”
The fact that President Obama was sharing support for an amendment even earlier than previously known underscores the importance of the issue to our nation’s president. In addition to President Obama, 44 U.S. senators, 123 U.S. representatives, and more than 1,700 state legislators have gone on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
The day after Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics was considered at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Udall joined People For the American Way activists, supporters, and staff members on a member telebriefing to discuss the amendment and what Americans can do to support it.
Sen. Udall noted in his introduction that together we have come a long way in the movement to get big money out of politics, due in part to the work of People For the American Way. He said that in the last few years, our nation’s campaign finance laws have come under increasing attack. There are only two ways, Sen. Udall said, to have lasting reform on this issue: either the Court can reverse itself, or we can amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Sen. Udall pointed out that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts.
When asked by a participant to address the false claim pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and other right-wing politicians and activists that this amendment is an attack on the First Amendment, Sen. Udall explained: “This is about restoring the First Amendment so it applies equally to all Americans.” He pointed out that our access to constitutional rights and our ability to participate in the democratic process should not be based on our net worth.
Sen. Udall urged activists on the call to voice their support at every opportunity they have. Specifically, he encouraged advocates to get a copy of the amendment and urge their local officials to support it by passing resolutions. Despite the lengthy process of amending the Constitution, Sen. Udall asked participants not to be discouraged; with a strong grassroots movement, he said, we can make it happen.
PFAW executive vice president Marge Baker also fielded questions from participants on the call. She urged activists to connect campaign finance reform to the issues most important to them and their communities, whether that’s fighting for health and safety on the job, defending the environment, or protecting voting rights. On voting rights, Baker pointed out that the Supreme Court’s attacks on campaign finance laws go hand in hand with their attacks on the right to cast a vote; both have the effect of disempowering average Americans in our democracy. This is why, Baker pointed out, we must take on the Supreme Court and reclaim our political system – making it a democracy truly of, by, and for the people.
You can listen to the call here:
Before yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed campaign finance constitutional amendment had even begun, advocates from People For the American Way and partner organizations had already delivered a powerful message from the American people. Carrying signs saying “Restore the First Amendment” and “Amend the Constitution to #GetMoneyOut,” activists rolled in stacked boxes of more than two million petitions in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.
In his opening remarks, Sen. Patrick Leahy noted that these petitions serve as a “tangible reminder that Americans are calling on Congress to act.”
In an rare move that underscored the importance of the proposed amendment, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell testified at the hearing. Sen. Reid issued a call to action for the amendment, urging Americans to work together to restore the basic principle of one American, one vote. “Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances,” he said.
Sen. McConnell, on the other hand, used the platform to claim that the proposed amendment is about shutting people up, calling it the “latest proposal to weaken the First Amendment.” Later, Sen. Ted Cruz continued to push the false claim that the amendment would “repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment” and “muzzle” Americans.
But other witnesses were quick to debunk this myth, including constitutional law expert Jamie Raskin, who is also a senior fellow at People For the American Way. In his testimony, Raskin noted:
[E]ven as our huge majorities of Americans support reclaiming our democracy, opponents of the Amendment are waving the flag of the First Amendment, as if political democracy and free speech are enemies. But the Citizens United era has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with plutocratic power. Citizens United did not increase the rights of a single citizen to express his or her views with speech or with money. Before the decision, all citizens, including CEOs, could express themselves freely, make contributions, and spend all the money they had to promote their politics. They could band together with the help of the corporation and form a PAC. All Citizens United did was confer a power on CEOs to write corporate treasury checks for political expenditures, without a vote of the shareholders, prior consultation or even disclosure.
In terms of real world consequences, Raskin went on to note, these damaging Supreme Court decisions did not “expand the political freedom of citizens but… reduce[d] the political power of citizens.”
North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick described some of those real world effects, noting that he can divide his time in the state legislature into two distinct periods: “before Citizens United, and after”:
Suddenly, no matter what the race was, money came flooding in. Even elected officials who had been in office for decades told me they’d never seen anything like it. We were barraged by television ads that were uglier and less honest than I would have thought possible. And they all seemed to be coming from groups with names we had never even heard of. But it was clear that corporations and individuals who could write giant checks had a new level of power in the state.
WASHINGTON – Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections, an ability that was gutted by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. This morning People For the American Way and ally organizations delivered more than two million petitions, signed by Americans from every state, in support of such an amendment.
People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:
“Today’s hearing shows that some of our elected leaders are really listening to the American people’s call for money in politics reform. More than nine in ten voters think it’s important for elected officials to work to lessen money’s influence on our democratic system. Voters want a democracy where the voices of everyday Americans matter, not just the voices of the super-rich.
“A constitutional amendment is only warranted in rare circumstances, but in the wake of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon that have undermined the basic functioning of our democracy, the American people must act to restore it. Today two million Americans have a message, loud and clear, for Congress: we want our democracy back.”
On Monday, People For the American Way released an edit memo on how SJ Res.19 would restore the First Amendment and strengthen our democracy. PFAW also submitted testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and joined close to 50 ally organizations in a letter urging senators to support SJ Res. 19.
Executive vice president Marge Baker is available for interviews with the press. To arrange an interview or for additional photos of the petition drop, please contact Layne Amerikaner at firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-467-4999.
When Sen. Ted Cruz told the conservative pastors gathered at the Family Research Council’s Watchmen on the Wall conference yesterday that “the Senate Democrats are going to be voting on a constitutional amendment to repeal the First Amendment,” he was met with an audible gasp. He earned more gasps when he warned that this amendment would suppress the political speech rights of the “citizenry” and “muzzle” pastors in their pulpits.
We were surprised too. That would be news!
But then it became clear what he was talking about: Senate leadership is planning to hold a vote on a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and rulings in related campaign finance cases such as this year’s McCutcheon case, which have steadily eliminated the limits on election spending by corporations and wealthy individuals.
The amendment, written by Sen. Tom Udall, would give the federal government and states the “power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents” in elections, as it was allowed to do before the Supreme Court started dismantling campaign finance regulations.
In other words, the amendment would allow Congress and state governments to set limits on the amount that corporations and wealthy individuals can spend to support and oppose candidates. So, unless a pastor also runs a super PAC, it would not affect his life all that much, much less “muzzle” him. But Cruz, employing the Religious Right’s persecution rhetoric, claims that “41 Democrats have signed on to repealing the First Amendment” because “they don’t like it when the citizenry in their community has the temerity to criticize what they’ve done” and “they don’t like it when pastors in their community stand up and speak the truth.”
Decision Could Balloon Spending In State Elections
WASHINGTON – Campaign spending in states with aggregate contribution limits will likely soon balloon in the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision, according to a new report by People For the American Way Foundation.
The report analyzes the anticipated state impacts of the high court striking down limits on the total amount a donor can give directly to candidates, parties, and committees at the federal level in the McCutcheon ruling. It forecasts a spending explosion in states whose aggregate limits on contributions to state candidates will soon be challenged or nullified in light of the decision. Among other data, the report finds:
• In New York, the current limit is $300,000 per two years. We estimate big donors will now be able to contribute $2,531,600 per election cycle, more than eight times the previous limit.
• In Maryland, the current limit is $10,000 per four-year election cycle. We estimate big donors will now be able to contribute $768,000 per four-year election cycle. This is a greater than 76-fold increase.
The states analyzed in the report are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
“The McCutcheon decision didn’t only undercut our federal campaign finance laws, it has ramifications for states across the country,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way Foundation. “Allowing wealthy donors to put exponentially more money into state elections tilts the playing field even more starkly in their favor and strikes at the very foundation of our democracy.”
The report is available here: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/how-supreme-courts-mccutcheon-decision-could-balloon-spending-state-electi
On the floor of the Senate today, Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a constitutional amendment to counter the outsized role of big money in our electoral system. Senate leaders are not wasting any time in moving forward; Sen. Leahy announced today that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the amendment early next month. The Senate action on an amendment – which 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns have already gone on record in favor of – serves as a significant step forward in the growing movement to put the power in our democracy back in the hands of the people.
Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…
…[T]he flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons.
Read People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker’s statement on the upcoming hearing here.
2014 is looking to be a bumper year for election spending. After the Citizens United ruling in 2010, that year’s midterms became a test case for how the newly-minted Super PACs and newly-empowered “dark money” groups would use their strength. They must have liked what their spending bought them, because this year they are back with a vengeance.
According to Open Secrets, spending by outside groups as of May 6th in this election cycle has approximately tripled from the amount outside groups spent in the same time period leading up to the 2010 midterms (leaping from $16.6 million in 2010 to $72.7 million in 2014). In 2006, this number was $2.5 million – that’s a twenty-nine-fold increase in just two midterm cycles. At this rate, outside spending on this year’s midterms is set to far outpace even outside spending in the 2008 presidential election cycle.
The influence of outside spending groups has increased so much that in some races they are spending far more than the candidates themselves. Forty-nine percent of all election spending on this year’s midterms so far has come from outside spending groups. In hotly contested races, the proportion is even higher. In the North Carolina U.S. Senate race – which is the most expensive so far this cycle – 90 percent of all spending has come from outside groups, 58 percent of which are “dark money” groups not required to disclose their donors like Super PACs do.
The new era of “big money” election spending disproportionately benefits conservative candidates. Seventy-two percent of donors who had maxed out their aggregate contribution limits before the Supreme Court struck down those limits in April had contributed only to Republicans. Forty-five percent of these donors were in the finance industry. In addition, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-linked “dark money” group, accounts for nearly one third of all independent expenditures on television advertising so far in this election cycle.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, just as reformers predicted, the Republican Party is forming “super joint fundraising committees” that pool large checks from big donors and – now unrestrained by aggregate contribution limits – redirect that money to long lists of candidate campaigns.
The consequences of the influx of “big money” into our elections are clear for the vast majority of Americans who can’t afford to write large check to candidates: they’re being squeezed out of the process. According to the Brennan Center, in current “high-dollar” federal races, only nine percent of funds have come from donations of $200 or less.
Simply put, these trends are disturbing. Even before Citizens United, it was becoming clear that money played an outsized role in our politics. The continued ability of corporations, special interests and wealthy individuals to spend limitlessly on elections calls into question the health of our democracy. The concentration of power away from the voters and towards the donor class creates the specter – and very real threat – of a Congress wholly populated by those elected by dollars, not votes.