Congressman Adam Schiff of California has introduced a joint resolution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The joint resolution calls for a constitutional amendment allowing the United States Congress and individual states to regulate contributions and expenditures in political campaigns. The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would also enact public financing of elections. The move is intended to get big money out of politics and restore democracy, Schiff said in a tweet earlier today.
“Just introduced Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United,” Schiff said in the tweet. “We must stop vast sums of anonymous money that threaten our democracy.”
The Supreme Court of the United States handed down its landmark decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case on January 21, 2010. In that case, the conservative non-profit group Citizens United successfully argued that the government’s use of the 2002 “McCain-Feingold” campaign finance reform law in prohibiting the advertising of a film it had produced about Hillary Clinton was a violation of its First Amendment rights. According to U.S. News & World Report, the decision in favor of Citizens United opened up the floodgates for outside political spending on campaigns by corporations and “independent” political groups. The decision has led to a free-for-all where any group can form a political action committee and spend unlimited amounts of money in support of a candidate or party, as long as that group is not “officially” linked to the candidate or party it supports.
In a Jacobin interview, Noam Chomsky explained that the Citizens United decision was basically the last in a series of moves to completely eliminate restrictions on campaign funding in the United States. The result of the decision is that regular people have a diminished voice in government unless they can get together to spend the kinds of cash much more easily raised by giant corporations and large political groups known as super PACs. PAC is shorthand for “political action committee.” Candidates who desire large super PACs on their side are not officially allowed to court them or get involved in their creation, but when there’s a money motive involved, politicians often have no trouble finding ways to win the favor of these sources of unlimited campaign spending.
This means that the politicians who do a better job of winning the favor of these big money interests are the ones who wind up in elected office, where remaining in the favor of those big money interests could be the key to their electoral success next time around. That’s a big incentive to work for the donors rather than one’s constituents, and it’s this marriage of politics and money that Adam Schiff is trying to remedy.
The passage of an amendment to the Constitution like the one proposed by Adam Schiff faces a steep uphill climb, to say the absolute least. Obviously, the forces who will strongly oppose the effort are the same big money interests that the amendment is designed to fight. It will require focused and dedicated grassroots support from the public and more than one lone committed congressman willing to fight for the amendment if it’s going to stand a chance.
Adam Schiff’s resolution for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision is only a first step, but in the long run, it could wind up being a big one.
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