Senate Plans For ‘Watershed’ Vote On Monday

The Senate is preparing to vote on Citizens United, a constitutional amendment that basically eliminated political spending limits by anonymous corporate entities.

Monday’s vote will be for a brief resolution called SJ Res 19, which is referred to as the Udall resolution, as it was offered by Sen. Mark Udall (D – NM). It is also informally referred to as the “Democracy for All” amendment. The Udall resolution is fairly modest, stating that, in order to “advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process,” both Congress and the state governments “may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”

In Washington, politicians remain divided on this issue, mainly along party lines, with Republicans insisting that corporations have the right to free speech, just as people do, whereas many Democrats would like to see the huge, anonymous donations be curtailed, afraid that the wealthy (even those outside of the U.S.) are able to now actually purchase elections. Voters, however, across the spectrum of political parties and beliefs, hope that the Senate will weaken the completely unprecedented amendment that has allowed a tremendous increase in the power of money influencing U.S. elections. Many believe, as Justice Stevens said in his dissent against Citizens United, that a “democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

A look at numbers tells a huge story about the impact that Citizens United has had in elections. The money pouring in for midterm election battles has already broken records. The Federal Election Commission has noted that election spending for midterms has already passed the $50 million mark. For comparison, at this point in the election cycle before Citizens United was passed into law, there had only been $6.6 million in spending by groups with anonymous donors. Furthermore, the Center for Responsive Politics predicts that, by election day in November, the spending could be near $1 billion. That’s unheard of for midterm elections; until recently, that figure was unheard of even for presidential elections.

Many critics of Citizens United look at the Senate vote as a turning point. As Aquene Freechild, co-director of the Democracy Is For People Campaign, said, “The U.S. Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore democracy is a sign that the American people are being heard.”

So what is the concern about Citizens United, and the fact that it is legal for corporations to make unlimited, undisclosed, anonymous donations to political parties and politicians? It opens up the possibilities that many of these “non-profits” donate enough money that they are able to put pressure on elected officials to adopt certain policies that benefit them, effectively buying a politician.

As Freechild said, “This vote is just the beginning. Americans want Congress to rein in out-of-control election spending and ensure that the government responds to the will of the people, not the will of the wealthy.”

The resolution will need a two-thirds majority support in the Senate for it to progress.

[Image via Saving Advice]