In-Depth: Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) introduced this Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics by overturning key elements of recent Supreme Court decisions that have opened the floodgates for unlimited individual and special interest spending to influence political campaigns:
“With huge sums of money pouring into our election system cycle after cycle, the American people are losing their basic fundamental right to meaningful and fair representation in government. Elections, referendums, and ballot initiatives are being bought and sold to the highest bidders, with anonymous donors and deceivingly-named special interest groups willing to lie, cheat, and steal to win out. We’ll never be able to tackle the important issues that the public rightly demands from its elected officials until we restore the principles of our democracy and put people back in power. That is why I am introducing this Constitutional Amendment and look forward to continuing to fight to ensure a basic level of honesty and integrity in our electoral system.”
Michael Kinsley, writing in Vanity Fair, argues that Citizens United shouldn’t be overturned, as it was a good decision by the Court:
“[Y]ou can't easily amend your way out of the problems raised by Citizens United, as you can the problems raised by, say, the Second Amendment: Citizens United, unlike the Second Amendment, is not an out-of-date decision that needs to be rehabbed. It was a good decision. It was correctly decided. It is not in there by historical accident. It should not be reversed. The proper way to ‘fix ’the problem that many people see is to change people's minds, not to change the Constitution, which would require inserting language into the First Amendment that directly violates First Amendment values. First Amendment values say that if you want a more ‘level playing field’ you must raise the low ground. You can't level the playing field by lowering the high ground. And the whole problem might be solved by Stein's Law (named for the late economist Herb Stein): ‘If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.’ If enough people are enraged enough by the imbalance of political power caused by money, they will vote against big money, which will turn it into a negative.”
The Cato Institute’s Edward H. Crane argues that it’s wrong to use taxpayer money to fund political campaigns:
“Taxpayer funding of political campaigns is wrong for a fundamental reason: In a free society, people are not forced to give their money to support political activity they would otherwise not support. It’s that simple. As Thomas Jefferson put it, ‘To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical’... Taxpayer funding, itself wrong on moral grounds, also would result in political careerists qualifying for the funding while outsiders and potential citizen legislators are turned down. And they wouldn’t even be allowed to raise funds privately… Ultimately, the problem isn’t spending, in any event. We spend less than $10 per eligible voter per election cycle for every office in the land-from dogcatcher to president. The problem is the power of the federal government. Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” That’s why the Founders set up a system of very limited federal power. Taxpayer funding of campaigns Will enhance federal power and corruption. Open, vigorous, privately funded campaigns are our best hope for reducing the burden of the federal government on the American People.”
This resolution has the support of four cosponsors, all of whom are Democrats. Rep. Yarmuth first introduced this amendment in 2011 as a bipartisan bill with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).
Of Note: In a 5-4 decision in January 2010, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of federal election law, allowing corporations to spend general treasury funds for communications that advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court determined that a ban on these expenditures violates the First Amendment.
After Citizens United, a 2014 Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC overturned aggregate limits, allowing a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to political parties and candidates’ campaigns.
Together, Citizens United and McCutchen v. FEC have led to unprecedented outside spending on political campaigns and decreased accountability and transparency. In 2010’s midterm elections, outside groups spent four times (+427%) more than they did in 2006’s midterm elections. In 2016, super PACs and other outside groups spent over $1.3 billion to influence that year’s elections — and that figure is a conservative estimate, since it doesn’t include political spending that goes unreported due to disclosure loopholes. Since there aren’t any disclosure requirements on corporate “persons,” much of this money’s origins is opaque, and the public doesn’t know where it comes from.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / artpipi)