Common Cause Hails Senate Move to Debate Constitutional Amendment on Political Spending

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  • Dale Eisman

Word that the U.S. Senate will finally debate a constitutional amendment to impose reasonable limits on political spending is welcome news for American democracy, Common Cause said today.

“Through legislation or ballot initiatives, citizens in 16 states and hundreds of localities have called on Congress to repair the damage done to our democracy by Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United, McCutcheon, and a string of other cases on campaign finance,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs.

“It’s past time that Congress responded with a constitutional amendment affirming that money is not speech and ensuring that all voices – not just those of the few Americans rich enough to fill the airwaves – can be heard. Thanks to Sen. Tom Udall for bringing this vital issue forward.”

Hobert Flynn said testimony in a Senate hearing this morning by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the dissenting opinion in Citizens United, made a clear case for an amendment. “While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech,” Stevens asserted. As such, the financing of political campaigns should not get the same free speech protections given to actual speech, he argued.

Stevens added that his former colleagues on the high court have mistakenly asserted that campaign finance laws are justified under the Constitution only to answer “quid pro quo” corruption – donations made to elected officials in return for specific actions. In fact, the Constitution permits spending limits to “level the playing field” so every candidate has a fair chance to make his or her views heard, the justice argued.

Common Cause led 2012 ballot initiative campaigns in which Montana and Colorado voters overwhelmingly agreed to instruct their congressional delegations to pass an amendment. The citizens’ lobby also has been prominent in a coalition of public interest groups advancing similar initiatives in dozens of localities and lobbying state legislatures to pass an amendment.

Other testimony at today’s Senate hearing came from Ann Ravel, vice-chair of the Federal Election Commission and a former chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Acting last year on a complaint from Common Cause, the California panel levied a record $1 million fine on an Arizona-based group that funneled $11 million supplied by anonymous donors into a pair of California ballot measures in 2012.

“As Ms. Ravel and several other witnesses at today’s hearing noted, disclosure requirements also are extremely important in helping Americans evaluate the messages being used in attempts to influence their votes,” Hobert Flynn said.

“In that vein, we were pleased to hear today’s statement by Sen. Ted Cruz, a vocal opponent of most campaign finance laws, in support of strong disclosure requirements. We hope Sen. Cruz will carry that message to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has led repeated filibusters blocking the DISCLOSE Act. Senate floor action this summer on DISCLOSE, as well as on a Constitutional amendment, would be a fine election year service to American voters,” she added.