Crucial Amendment on Campaign Finance

Two progressive members of Congress are taking on the U.S. Supreme court in a crucial effort to shore up democracy in America.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ted Deutch of Florida on Tuesday introduced “The Democracy Is for People” amendment.

Got to love that title!

Section I states that only “natural persons” may “make contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections.” This would eliminate all spending by corporations, nonprofit groups, unions, and so-called dark sources.

Section II gives Congress and state legislatures the right to regulate campaign financing: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power of Congress and the States to protect the integrity and fairness of the electoral process, limit the corrupting influence of private wealth in public elections, and guarantee the dependence of elected officials on the people alone by taking actions which may include the establishment of systems of public financing for elections, the imposition of requirements to ensure the disclosure of contributions and expenditures made to influence the outcome of a public election by candidates, individuals, and associations of individuals, and the imposition of content neutral limitations on all such contributions and expenditures.”

The amendment is an attempt to nullify the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010, which asserted that money is speech and that the government couldn’t regulate independent expenditures.

“The American people want . . . a complete reversal of Citizens United,” said Representative Deutch. “The Democracy Is for People Amendment will stop corporations and their front groups from using their profits and dark money donations to influence our elections while reaffirming the right of the American people to elections that are fair and representatives that are accountable.”

Joining Deutch in the House as original cosponsors were Reps. Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Peter Defazio, Rosa DeLauro, Keith Ellison, Eliot L. Engel, Alcee L. Hastings, William Keating, Eleanor Holmes Norton, George Miller, Jim Moran, Ed Perlmutter, Chellie Pingree, Charles Rangel, John Sarbanes, Jan Schakowsky, Kurt Schrader, Louise Slaughter, Henry Waxman, and Peter Welch.

Said Senator Sanders: “What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, ‘You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed.”

Activists who have been working on this issue since the day after the Citizens United decision came down hailed the amendment.

“This amendment establishes the common sense proposition that the American people have the power to protect the integrity of our democracy in the wake of the most expensive election in U.S. history, with more dark money raised from secret sources than ever before," said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. "The Democracy is for People Amendment represents a bold and thoughtful effort to undo the damage done by activist judges on the Supreme Court and to recognize the political equality of each American voter by limiting the undue influence of those who tried to super-size their votes in the 2012 elections by spending unprecedented sums on SuperPACs and stealthy groups that are exempt from taxes."

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said: “The Democracy Is for People Amendment will eliminate unaccountable corporate spending in our elections and restore governmental authority over campaign spending to the people.” He added: Democracy is rule by the people, after all, not rule by Goldman Sachs, Walmart, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

For more information on the amendment, go to http://www.sanders.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/031213-CUAmendmentFactSheet1.pdf

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Hugo Chavez, a Thorn in Washington’s Side."

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