As someone who has written several books and dozens of major articles on judicial interventions in our politics, and who has covered literally hundreds of campaigns in every state of the country, I have made no secret about my sense that the best response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations spend freely on campaigns is a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy from being overwhelmed with corporate cash.
For that reason, since the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling came down, I have highlighted the important work of groups such as Move to Amend and Free Speech for People, which are working on savvy amendment strategies.
Last week, I hailed the introduction of an amendment proposal by Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards — with co-sponsorship from House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan — and Edwards’ wise observation that: "You don’t amend the Constitution often, but the Supreme Court really has left us with no choice but to change the Constitution and make sure that people own our government and our elections — not the corporations."
There are those who disagree with the amendment strategy, however, and I respect that they are exploring alternative approaches. Indeed, as we noted in the recent Nation editorial on the Citizens United ruling, many supporters of an amendment are also backing milder initiatives, as they recognize that the amendment route can be long and demanding.
Two key members of Congress have developed legislation that seeks to address some of the most serious concerns about the high court majority’s decision to reject more than one hundred years of law and precedent in order to give dramatic new political power to already-powerful corporations — along with other groups that have fewer resources and less ability to influence the elections, such as labor unions.
Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, unveiled what is likely to be the primary response of Democratic congressional leaders to a court decision that President Barack Obama correctly warns will "open the floodgates" of corporate influence over our elections and the governing process.
Schumer and Van Hollen –whose efforts to draft legislation have the blessing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada — have rejected the calls for a constitutional amendment. At least for now.
Rather, they want to ban donations by "foreign-influenced" and "taxpayer-assisted corporations" — such as government contractors and the banks and financial-service institutions that have yet to repay federal bailout bucks. They have also proposed some meaningful new disclosure requirements on corporations spend money on campaigns directly or through associations and political action groups.
Says Van Hollen: "If you’re AIG or a big Wall Street firm or other firms that received TARP [Troubled Asset Relief Program] monies, until you pay back those TARP monies to the taxpayer, you cannot be using your corporate funds to try and defeat or elect a candidate. That’s just wrong, and we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen."