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A Constitutional Amendment to Get Money Out Goes Before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Damon L. Daniels

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution is debating and voting on Senate Joint Resolution 19, which calls for a constitutional amendment that grants Congress and states the authority to enact commonsense campaign finance regulations. In the wake of the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, this amendment is a necessary counterbalance to the deluge of money that wealthy individuals, corporations and special interests have flooded into our elections.

Americans of all political stripes lack faith in our political system and want to see change. More than seven in ten voters believe our country's system is biased in favor of the candidate with the most money. More than nine in ten believe it is important for our elected leaders to reduce the influence of money in political elections. S.J. Res. 19 speaks directly to these concerns; it provides frameworks through which federal and state governments can limit the raising and spending of money on political campaigns, including independent expenditures that come from Super PACs, 501c4 nonprofits and 501c6 trade associations, and wealthy individuals.

Equally important is the fact that support for a constitutional amendment is broad. Over 150 members of Congress16 states, more than 550 cities and towns, and even President Obama are on record in favor of an amendment. Moreover, S.J. Res. 19 is similar to bipartisan constitutional amendments introduced in nearly every Congress since 1983, when Senator Ted Stevens [R-AK] was the lead sponsor.

The decades-old problem of money in politics is basic: our current system allows a wealthy and powerful few to translate economic might directly into political power. Political equality is a critical means to achieve economic opportunity and mobility because political power of the wealthy skews policy outcomes, as this group favors different priorities than the general public. Effectively, the deck is stacked against ordinary citizens when wealthy special interests get to write the rules of the game exclusively, which belies the original intent of the First Amendment to promote a robust democracy where voters can consider many points of view.

Protecting political equality has never been more imperative. Without mandating specific policies or regulations, S.J. Res. 19 can help ensure that meaningful campaign finance reform will withstand misguided constitutional challenges from those looking to protect the status quo. It overturns a host of bad decisions rendered by the Supreme Court; decisions that precipitated the spending of over $6 billion during the 2012 election cycle, and hopefully, pushes back on the specter that the United States operates more like an oligarchy rather than a democracy.

S.J. Res. 19 establishes a set of guidelines for a critical recalibration of who the laws of our government should best represent: the people. We would all be wise to stand behind this.

Update: By a 5-4 vote, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution passed the resolution today.