Reversing the Citizens United Disaster

It will obviously not receive the two-thirds vote in the Senate necessary to advance a constitutional amendment, and obviously won’t see the light of day in the House. But still, today’s Senate vote on a constitutional amendment (introduced by Sen. Tom Udall with 46 other Senate Democratic cosponsors) to restore Congress right to regulate campaign contributions and spending is an important gesture towards sanity. As Udall and Bernie Sanders explained in a Politico Magazine op-ed:

In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a disastrous 5-4 opinion striking down major parts of a 2002 campaign-finance reform law in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This case and subsequent rulings, including McCutcheon v. FEC, have led to the explosion of outside money in elections through so-called super PACs. In the 2012 election, we quickly saw the results — 32 major super PAC donors combined to give more money than the millions of ordinary Americans who donated less than $200 each to Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. More than 60 percent of all super PAC funds came from just 159 donors, each of whom gave more than $1 million.

Even more worrisome is the explosion of “dark money” — dollars spent by groups that do not have to disclose their funding sources. The 2012 election saw almost $300 million in dark money spending, and the 2014 election could potentially see as much as $1 billion….

Barring a major change in the membership of the Supreme Court, a constitutional amendment is the sole remedy available for this disastrous chain of precedents. It’s a hard and perhaps even impossible path, but one that must be pursued lest the status quo be deemed perpetually acceptable.

When the Supreme Court says, for purposes of the First Amendment, that corporations are people, that writing checks from the company’s bank account is constitutionally protected speech and that attempts to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger….

On Monday, we will vote on our constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform. But we won’t stop there. We must develop an unprecedented grass-roots movement in all 50 states to make it clear to Congress and the Supreme Court that buying of elections is not what American democracy is all about.

That is clearly what it will take.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.