The political crisis of confidence created by an activist Supreme Court’s decisions in cases such as Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FCC is beginning—finally—to garner appropriate consideration from the US Senate. That’s important. What’s even more important is that it is focused on the proper response to the crisis: amending the US Constitution in order to restore the right of citizens and their elected representatives to organize elections where the vote matters more than the dollar.
On Tuesday, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s assistant majority leader, chaired what Public Citizen identifies as “the first-ever hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the need to amend the Constitution to overturn egregious US Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon, which gave corporations and the ultra-wealthy the green light to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.”
Durbin was an engaged chair of the hearing by the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, having already declared, “It’s increasingly clear that the only way to really reform our system is to pass a constitutional amendment to regulate how we finance our elections.”
The senator is right. And the American people are supportive of his position; sixteen states and more than 500 communities have formally asked Congress to back an amendment to clarify that, despite what the Supreme Court might imagine, corporations are not people and money is not speech. Still, the significance of this hearing, which comes as Senate Democratic leaders are talking about scheduling an amendment vote, ought not be underestimated. Nor should the fact that the number of senators supporting a constitiutional amendment is rapidly approaching a majority.
The grassroots movement for an amendment can no longer be marginalized. It has forced Senate leaders to get serious about a crisis that can no longer be neglected.
Polling shows that the clear majority of Americans believe that our elected officials do not serve the interest of the great mass of citizens who actually elect them, which ought to be the basic premise of governance in a democratic republic. Rather, by a two-to-one margin, Americans believe government officials are inclined to promote policies that favor the wealthy rather than the working poor.
Why? More than three-quarters of Americans now tell pollsters that politicians are “corrupted” by campaign donations and lobbyists. They recognize that American University professor Jamie Raskin (who also serves as a Maryland state senator) is right when he tells the Judiciary Committee members that “within the governmental process and electoral process there are right reasons for those who hold public office to make decisions and there are wrong reasons—and a wrong reason is the money you are either going to put into your pocket or huge amounts of money that you’re going to put into your campaign.”