Reason reports that every Democrat in the Senate is supporting a constitutional amendment that would repeal Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the landmark Supreme Court decision which lifted the legal limits on spending that corporations and unions could conduct during election season.
This cased involved, Citizens United, a conservative organization which created a film that was ultimately banned on TV because of how critical it was towards Hilary Clinton. This case recognized that Americans should not be stripped of their First Amendment rights simply because they express them in a way that ruffles the political establishment’s feathers.
However, with the Democracy for All Amendment, it not only nullifies this Supreme Court decision, it also radically overhauls the constitutional treatment of all political speech. It would allow Congress and state legislatures to enact any restrictions on spending during election season.
Section 1 of the amendment says, “To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.” Through its imposition of restrictions on money spent to influence elections, this provision would nullify the precedent established during the 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo.
In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the campaign contribution limits established under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). However, the Court overturned FECA’s limits on all spending coming from candidates and independent groups or individuals. According to the Court, those limits “place substantial and direct restrictions on the ability of candidates, citizens, and associations to engage in protected political expression, restrictions that the First Amendment cannot tolerate.”
Section 2 of the amendment allows legislators to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.” This could entail a complete ban on speech during election time. Citizens who pool resources together as corporations and nonprofit interest groups from across the political spectrum would have their free speech rights muzzled.
Interestingly, Section 3 of the amendment states “nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.” The amendment’s supporters believe that they are protecting the media exemptions which allow The New York Times and CNN to speak freely about candidates during an election, despite these outlets being under a corporate umbrella.
However, law professor Eugene Volokh demonstrates that the “freedom of the press” which the First Amendment ostensibly protects is not confined to a specific profession. This clause was designed to protect all individuals who use tools of mass communication, whether they be the printing press during the founding of America, or the TV, radio, or Internet in modern times. Upon careful inspection, Section 3 of this amendment effectively negates the rest of it.
All in all, campaign finance reform is a Trojan Horse.
Like all legislation, it sounds reasonable once rolled out. But when we start looking at the fine print, we start to see the anti-freedom aspects of it. These types of measures only serve to curtail free speech and protect establishment politicians from facing the wrath of the voters.