For the past two days, the Senate has debated a bill proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would add, in main part, the following text:
To advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral process, Congress shall have the power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections….
The debate has been exciting but not exactly honest. Conservative critics have attempted to distract the public from the clear undemocratic influence of big money in politics with absurd claims about “repealing” or “gutting” the First Amendment. For example, Peter Roff, a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, asserts that the purpose of the bill is “to gut the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution like a fish and serve it up, filleted and de-boned to [Senator Harry Reid’s] buddies in organized labor, the environmental movement and other so-called progressives who have recently discovered how inconvenient a level playing field is to their political wants and desires.”
Roff’s use of the term “level playing field” to describe the existing campaign finance regulatory landscape would be laughable were it not so tragically misguided. The ostensibly level playing field lets wealthy corporations and individuals dominate politics by using their financial resources to shout over the public. And two professors of political science from Princeton University issued a report this April that examined about 1,800 policy outcomes over a twenty-year period, finding:
[E]conomic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.
This capture of the political system by a small group of wealthy interests is fundamentally anti-democratic, resulting from the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence which has led to an understanding of the First Amendment that no longer ensures elected officials are accountable and responsive to the public. And the proposed amendment will let the public reclaim a First Amendment that serves a democracy in which everybody can be heard.