Constitutional Amendment Introduced to Overturn Citizens United



In early November, nine senators introduced a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Citizens United decision by giving Congress and individual states the legal authority to regulate corporate political spending.

With the 2012 presidential election less than one year away, candidates are already knee-deep in fundraising efforts. The numbers are sky-high: In the third quarter of his re-election campaign alone, President Obama raised more than $70 million. Former Governor Mitt Romney, just one of the many Republican candidates for president, has raised over $32 million in his entire campaign so far.

These figures represent thousands of contributions made by individual donors to candidates’ election campaigns. But that is not the only political spending this election cycle: Emboldened by the 2010 landmark Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, we can expect to see new flows of corporate political spending enter the 2012 campaign.Fortunately, a group of senators is trying to restore Congress’ ability to regulate campaign finance.In early November, nine senators introduced a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Citizens United decision by giving Congress and individual states the legal authority to regulate corporate political spending.

The contentious Citizens United 5‐4 decision declared that corporations are tantamount to individuals and are therefore guaranteed the right to free speech endowed in the First Amendment. Since the Court had ruled in the 1970s that money can be viewed as a form of speech, the justices then ruled in Citizens United that corporations, while still prohibited from contributing directly to a campaign, can now use as much of their general funds as they wish to advocate for the victory or defeat of a specific candidate.

“With the Supreme Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to address the root cause of this problem is to give Congress clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system,” said Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) in a statement announcing the introduction of the amendment. The amendment would allow Congress and the states to limit contributions and expenditures made to federal and state election candidates, respectively.

Ratifying a constitutional amendment is an extremely long and arduous process (in the history of the United States, more than 11,000 amendments have been proposed to the Constitution, and only 27 have passed). In order to become law, the amendment would need the support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then it would need to be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures.

Although it is unlikely for such an amendment to be ratified in this Congress or state legislature session, Congressional support for such action demonstrates the continued abhorrence and frustration with the influence of money in politics.

Image courtesy of the New York Times.

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Susan Paykin

About Susan Paykin

Susan Paykin is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She is a native of Oakland, NJ, and recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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