Last week, New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and five fellow Democratic colleagues, proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Congress to regulate the campaign finance system. Long an advocate of campaign finance reform, Udall seeks to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United decision, in which the high court ruled it unconstitutional to regulate the money spent during elections by corporations and unions. In that decision, the Court essentially based its ruling on an earlier Supreme Court decision of 1976, Buckley v. Valeo, which ruled that spending money in elections is a form of speech.
“I strongly disagree with the premise in Buckley and the Supreme Court’s recent reversal of precedent in Citizens United versus the FEC [Federal Elections Commission],” said Udall at the press conference introducing the bill. “The court had previously allowed Congress to pass laws preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption. But the latest reinterpretation of the Constitution has left our political system vulnerable like never before.”
For the bill to become law, it must pass with a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, then be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures. While acknowledging the difficulty of amending the Constitution, Udall seems to want to capitalize on the growing mood of disaffection with big money overall as evidenced by the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers. In comments to the online site, Politico Influence, days after his proposal, Udall said, “I believe there is a significant grass-roots movement out there to take the money out of politics.”
He said that the momentum on Capitol Hill has already picked up since introducing the bill, claiming 10 of his fellow senators have agreed to co-sponsor the amending (in addition to the six who signed on with him and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, Charles Schumer of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Tom Harkin of Iowa). “It’s pretty dramatic how the campaign landscape has changed.”
Although Udall had no response when asked about the recent kerfuffle over both Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s campaign-contribution issues or those of the state’s Democratic Attorney General Gary King, nor did he have anything to say about James Bopp Jr.’s lawsuit challenging the state’s constitutionality of those very same campaign-contribution limits, his bill cosponsor, Durbin, said at the press conference, “If you want to take our political campaigns out of the hands of special interest groups and Super PACs and groups we’ve never heard of, this is the way to do it.
“I do not begrudge corporations or lobbyists a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions in Washington,” continued Durbin. “But they aren’t entitled to own the table. The table really belongs to the American people.”
Schumer put it even more emphatically, referring to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and Buckley decisions, stating, “These are awful decisions that need to be overturned.”