Political Spending Amendment Will Protect Every American’s Right to be Heard

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  • Dale Eisman

A proposed constitutional amendment permitting new controls on political spending will restore free speech and “the voices of average, ordinary Americans in our elections,” Common Cause said today.


In written testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Common Cause President Miles Rapoport asserted that Supreme Court decisions dismantling longstanding campaign finance laws have “radically altered the scope and meaning of the First Amendment” and allowed special interests to “drown out the voices of the rest of us.


“This renders speech anything but free,” Rapoport added, as “those with economic power purchase political power and undue influence over government decisions.”


“Elections are supposed to be about voters choosing their representatives,” he wrote. “That central purpose is lost if those seeking favors and policies from the government so dominate campaign spending that elected officials are more beholden to campaign donors than to constituents.”


Common Cause filed Rapoport’s testimony as the Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on the amendment, SJR 19, introduced by Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM. Both Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are slated to testify in person; Reid has promised a Senate floor debate and vote on the amendment before the end of the year.


Questions about the difference between money and speech, as well as the scope of free press protections already in the Constitution are certain to dominate discussion of the amendment. Udall’s draft asserts that “to advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes,” Congress and state legislators should have authority to regulate political fundraising and spending.


Common Cause has figured prominently in a national campaign to build support for changing the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s rulings in Citizens United v. FEC, McCutcheon v. FEC and other cases in which the court essentially has equated political spending with free speech. The rulings have prompted wealthy individuals, businesses and other organizations to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into state and federal campaigns, often using non-profit groups to hide the identities of the real donors.


The flood of money gives outsized political influence to the people and groups providing it, Common Cause and other amendment supporters argue. And while they often hide from the public, those donors take care to ensure that candidates and officeholders are aware of their spending.


Voters in Montana and Colorado and in dozens of localities across the country have approved ballot measures calling for an amendment. In 14 other states, state legislators have passed resolutions calling on Congress to act.