To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Date: January 20, 2015
Re: The Growing Movement to Defend Democracy Five Years After Citizens United
Five years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down its destructive decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a ruling that set the stage for an influx of outside spending in our democracy. This trend was on display in the 2014 election cycle, which saw the most outside spending of any midterm in our country’s history.
While Citizens United wrought unprecedented harm on our political process, it also ushered in a nationwide movement seeking to undo this harm. In just five years, more than 600 cities and towns as well as 16 states have officially called for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, and more than 4.5 million Americans have signed their name to a petition calling for such an amendment.
While undoing the damage the Supreme Court has done to our country’s campaign finance laws – and our electoral democracy as a result – requires either a constitutional amendment or a fundamental change in the court’s composition or jurisprudence, there are a number of other measures advocates are pushing to help mitigate the damage in the short term. The fifth anniversary shines a spotlight on a movement that has unified in unprecedented ways – a movement that has moved beyond a focus solely on the problem of big money in politics toward a focus on the broad range of solutions. While Americans understand the problem, there is a hunger for solutions.
Many of these solutions are on display this week as Congressional leaders come together to reintroduce a package of reform measures that work in tandem to address the big money domination of our political system. From small donor empowerment measures to the disclosure of political spending to a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, the joint reintroduction of these reform measures (outlined below) highlights the fact that each is an integral part of the long-term solution:
1. Democracy for All Amendment: Provides Congress and the states with the authority to determine reasonable regulations on campaign financing and distinguish between natural persons and other artificial entities under campaign finance laws. Key sponsors: Sens. Udall, Sanders, Tester/Reps. Deutch, Edwards, McGovern.
2. DISCLOSE Act: Establishes a system of disclosure of campaign spending and the sources of those funds for all entities that make independent expenditures (at any time) and electioneering communications (in calendar year of an election for Congress; 120 days before the primary for presidential elections). Key sponsors: Sen. Whitehouse/Rep. Van Hollen.
3. Empowering small donors and increasing political participation: Matching public funds for small dollar contributions, and various other provisions. “Government by the People Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Rep. Sarbanes. “Empowering Citizens Act” (congressional and presidential elections), key sponsor: Rep. Price. “Fair Elections Now Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Sen. Durbin.
4. Prohibit campaign coordination: Clarifies the definition of “coordination” to include the close relationships and ties between a candidate and outside group or super PAC. Key sponsors: Sen. Tester/Rep. Price.
5. Real Time Transparency Act: Requires all political committees, including joint fundraising committees, to disclose electronically within 48 hours all cumulative contributions of $1,000 or more in a calendar year. Key sponsors: Sen. King/Rep. O’Rourke.
6. Sunlight for Unaccountable Nonprofits Act (SUN Act): Makes public the donors who give more than $5,000 to tax-exempt groups that engage in election activities. Key sponsor: Sen. Tester.
7. Shareholder Protection Act: Requires corporations to disclose to shareholders and the public spending of funds for independent expenditures and electioneering communications, even if such spending is indirectly done through a third party. Key sponsors: Sen. Menendez/Rep. Capuano.
As elected officials are coming together around policy solutions, advocates are coming together around shared values and goals. Last week, a wide range of pro-democracy groups issued a unified declaration of principles on money in politics reform. This “Unity Statement of Principles” has been signed by more than 130 organizations and represents the largest collection of organizations ever united in support of such an extensive range of solutions on these issues. Further, in cities across the country activists are hosting more than 60 events on the week of the anniversary to raise their voices against big money in politics.
We urge your editorial board to take advantage of the Citizens United anniversary to highlight for readers not only the growing problem of the big money domination of our elections, but also the solutions taking root across the country.
For the latest polling information, fact sheets, and updates about grassroots money in politics activism, please visit http://www.getmoneyoutaction.org/.