When Senators returned to the floor on Tuesday for the second day of debate on the Democracy for All amendment, supporters continued to build a strong case for getting money out of politics, while the opposition ramped up its hyperbole.
Senator Mike Lee of Utah would have us believe that the amendment is an un-American attack on “outside intruders” like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That is who the authors of this amendment believe are outside intruders whose speech somehow needs to be regulated, needs to be restricted by Congress—people with ideas that are ‘‘unreasonable,’’ people such as Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas proclaimed:
I guarantee there is no one in this country who truly believes money is not speech. It is a talking point[.]
Well, Senator, sixteen states and more than 550 counties, cities, and towns have called for an amendment, including many seeking to establish that money is not speech.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota:
It is no wonder a George Washington University Battleground poll found that 70 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
That may be true, but Americans also think that we need an amendment like Democracy for All.
One option we tested is a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. Voters support such an amendment by an overwhelming 73 to 24 percent margin, including majorities in even the reddest states.
Other highlights from day two:
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada:
At one time the Republican leader was rooted in the principle that the wealthy shouldn’t be able to buy public office whether for themselves or for others. Even as recently as late in 2007 he was preaching donor disclosure. What has changed in the last few years?
Over the last several years we have witnessed the Koch brothers trying to buy America, to pump untold millions into our democracy, hoping to get a government that would serve their bottom line and make them more money. The news today says they are out promoting themselves, and that is easy to do because they are worth $150 billion.
So we are watching the corrupting influence that the Republican leader foretold 27 years ago and many years thereafter before our very eyes. He switched teams. What could have possibly convinced the senior Senator from Kentucky that limitless, untraceable campaign donations aren’t really that bad after all?
Senator Al Franken of Minnesota:
I find this whole thing incredibly disturbing, this idea that a handful of superwealthy corporate interests in effect can buy our democracy—or in this case one guy. That is not how it is supposed to work. Everyone is supposed to have an equal say in our democracy regardless of his or her wealth. The guy in the assembly line gets as many votes as the CEO—one. You don’t get extra influence just because you have extra money—or you shouldn’t. The government should be responsive to everyone and not just the wealthiest among us.
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon:
This premise is so well-known to citizens that when you say: What are the first three words of our Constitution, they will say, together: ‘‘We the People,’’ because that is what animates our system of government—‘‘We the People.’’ Those who came to argue for the government by and for the powerful are simply trying to destroy our Constitution and our vision of government.
Citizens United, a court case that absolutely ignores the fundamental premises on which our Nation is founded, is a dagger poised at the heart of our democracy. It is a decision by five Justices that this framework doesn’t matter.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island:
I believe fixing the campaign finance system through this constitutional amendment will provide a foundation so we can have reasonable debate that is responsive to the interests of the American people and not responsive to the interests of a narrow class of Americans.
Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii:
The vast majority of the American people disagree with the Supreme Court’s unprecedented interpretation of the First Amendment. The Court has left us with the option we are pursuing today—amending the U.S. Constitution. When the Supreme Court said that women did not have the right to vote, Congress and the people passed the 19th Amendment. So amending the Constitution to protect our democracy is not some new or radical idea. When the Supreme Court said States could impose poll taxes on the poor, Congress and the people passed the 24th Amendment, and the list goes on. Why? Because the Supreme Court is made up of human beings, and as human beings they sometimes get it wrong, as they did in the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions.
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, lead sponsor of the Democracy for All amendment:
This debate is crucial. This debate is absolutely crucial to the future of our country, and I believe the American people are not only listening, they are demanding to be heard, because every voice counts, and that is why the majority of Americans support reform. They know the system is broken.
Senator John Walsh of Montana:
Passing this amendment is vital if we are going to begin to roll back the coercive influence of money in our democracy. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, political power has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of corporations and modern-day copper kings. In fact, less than 1 percent of Americans provide over two-thirds of the money spent on elections. The voices of everyday Americans are simply being silenced.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island:
Frankly, I have great reverence for the First Amendment, and I think it is extremely unfortunate that an argument would be made that is really nothing more than a rhetorical trick and does not respond to the gravamen of the dispute, which is whether the First Amendment should protect unlimited corporate spending when in the history of this country—until the decision by Citizens United—it never had.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio:
To restore voters’ faith in the political system, to ensure voters that their voices are being heard, one man, one woman, one American, one vote, that is what we stand for. Those are our values. That is why this is an important issue.
You can find these passages and more from Tuesday’s debate here.
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