Dems urge amendment to counter Citizens United

A handful of Senate Democrats said Tuesday that a constitutional amendment may be the only way to effectively counter the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was one of several Senate Democrats who backed the idea of an amendment at a hearing Tuesday afternoon. Durbin called legislation like the DISCLOSE Act a “good start,” but argued that a constitutional amendment was likely the only path to real reform.   

The hearing, which wasn’t attended by any Senate Republicans, featured a number of Senate Dems still stinging from the recent failure of a revamped version of the DISCLOSE Act. Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered testimony at the hearing, which lawmakers hoped would further highlight the rise of Super PACs and outside money this election cycle.

“What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies,’” said Sanders. “Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.”

Money and free speech have become synonymous on the campaign trail, Sen. Udall said at the hearing. And given the current makeup of the Supreme Court and its recent reaffirmation of the Citizens United ruling, Udall argued that getting behind a constitutional amendment was the best course of action for reformers.

“But an amendment can only succeed if Republicans join us in this effort,” said Udall. “They have in the past.”

Passage of a constitutional amendment would require a level of support that’s likely to be all but impossible to garner in the current political environment: a two-thirds majority in Congress and ratification by close to 40 states.  

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who also offered testimony at the hearing, said the idea of a constitutional amendment has the support of 28 Senators and 92 members of the House.

Also testifying Tuesday—former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who railed against outside money during his longshot 2012 bid for president, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, and Cato Institute senior fellow Ilya Shapiro.

Shapiro criticized the DISCLOSE Act as an attack on free speech, urging an approach that focuses solely on additional disclosure.

Lessig, meanwhile, offered up the idea of a “citizens’ convention” in which ordinary voters would gather to debate the Citizens United decision. His idea: conventions consisting of a random selection of 300 citizens who would act as the jury—sequestered, compensated and made to deliberate Citizens United after hearing both sides.


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