The consequences–intended or not–of the Citizens United decision couldn’t be more apparent than leading up to the 2012 presidential election. The total magnitude of secret money flowing into the election cycle is so alarming that Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have proposed a constitutional amendment to try and reign it in.
The amendment does not strip corporations of their status as persons, nor does it take away first amendment rights of political speech. Instead, it explicitly grants Congress and the states the authority to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures.
The amendment proposes the following: authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaign contributions and expenditures, including independent expenditures, allow states to regulate in an identical fashion at their level, and permit Congress to pass future campaign finance reform legislation.
It is an interesting tactic to a thorny problem of regulating political speech in the form of campaign spending. That’s because unlike most other forms of speech, in both Citizens United and its predecessor Buckley v. Valeo the Supreme Court has made reasonable restrictions on that speech nearly impossible to craft. This amendment would reverse that precedent. Corporations and independent advocacy groups (as well as individuals) could still spend money as political speech, and could probably still find ways to do so secretly, just under tighter standards.
It’s a pragmatic approach, even if it cedes the argument that corporations should have the right to spend money to influence elections. But it has a long way to go before passage. Congress couldn’t even pass the modest Disclose Act, a bill that only addressed disclosure of campaign spenders, so it’s hard to imagine this amendment finding broad support.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support the effort and put pressure on our representatives to get behind substantive campaign finance reform. The health and maybe even the fate of our democracy depends on it.
Photo from tracy o via flickr.