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Senate Dems Intro Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Finance

November 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

For decades, the least democratic federal legal institution in the United States has been custom tailoring the body of laws that have the most profound influence on the functioning of our democracy. In 1976 the Supreme Court ruled that political donations are a form of speech and deserve First Amendment protections. In 2010 they ruled that corporations are people and gave them power to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections without having to disclose anything.

A new constitutional amendment in the Senate seeks to regain control of campaign finance laws for Congress and state legislature. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall [D, NM] and co-sponsored by 8 other Democrats, would add language to the Constitution stating that Congress and the individual states can regulate and place limits on campaign contributions and expenditures.

The amendment faces extremely long odds. In order to take effect, constitutional amendments must pass both chambers of Congress with 2/3rds majorities, and then be approved by the legislatures of 3/4 of the states. With congressional Republicans opposing even basic disclosure of corporate spending on elections, promoting a constitutional amendment on campaign finance is basically an academic exercise.

Without a constitutional amendment, any campaign finance reforms Congress may pursue will face the threat of being struck down by the Supreme Court. The Fair Elections Now Act, for example, could be viewed by the Court as an attempt to unfairly tip the playing field of speech in the favor of candidates who opt to use public campaign funding. In their decision to kill Arizona’s public campaign financing system over the summer, the Court ruled that, “the matching funds provision imposes a substantial burden on the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups.” The Fair Elections Now Act might be vulnerable under that logic.

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