On June 3, 2014, a hearing was held by the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to discuss SJR 19. SJR 19 is a joint resolution, introduced by Senator Tom Udall (New Mexico), proposing a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections.
At that hearing, petitions with more than 2 million signers in support of an amendment were delivered to the subcommittee. When discussing SJR 19, Senator Udall stated that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts.
About 2 weeks later, on June 18, a debate was held and a successful vote taken to move SJR 19 from subcommittee to the full Senate Judiciary Committee. There will be debate on the resolution and a vote taken by the full Senate Judiciary Committee sometime later in July or after the Senate comes back from the August recess. If successful, which is highly likely, SJR 19 would then move to the full Senate. It is at that point where things would get difficult. You can help by calling your senators and asking them to support SJR 19.
There are some in Congress and elsewhere who claim that the amendment would “repeal the First Amendment.” That is simply not true. This amendment would do just the opposite. Senator Udall stated that the proposed amendment was about “restoring the First Amendment so it applies equally to all Americans.” He went on to say that “our access to constitutional rights and our ability to participate in the democratic process should not be based on our net worth.”
I have been given permission by Mike Badzioch (Texans United to Amend) to post the following letter that he wrote. Mike does an excellent job of refuting the claims made by those opposed to the amendment.
Contrary to those who fear the proposed amendment would repeal the First Amendment, SJRes 19 would effectively strengthen and return First Amendment rights to millions of individuals and small groups, by allowing them more equal access to media outlets for the free speech expression of their beliefs. Specifically, SJRes 19 would allow for the review and possible dismantling of the unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases that gave wealthy individuals and corporations the power to flood our elections with millions of dollars and thereby silence the majority will of “We, the People”.
Supreme Court decisions over the last 150 years have given for-profit corporations constitutional rights that were originally intended only for human beings and have allowed these ‘legal fictions’ to funnel large amounts of money to television companies, newspapers, and other advertisers and thus gave them the ability to dominate the national dialogue. These corporate ‘rights’ have, in fact, created ‘super-human’ entities with powers that far outweigh those of mortal flesh. Corporations never die, can exist in many places at one time, can consume one another, are amoral by being required to exist only to make a profit, and are not required to have allegiance to any single country. Are these characteristics ones we want in our national leaders? Corporate funding of candidates in elections and involvement in governmental decision making stifles a human-centric ‘one person one vote’ democracy. Individuals and communities become unable to financially compete and are thus more and more marginalized in determining their futures.
The McCutcheon v FEC decision earlier this year allows individuals to give over 6 million dollars to candidates per two-year election cycle. Even the pre-McCutcheon spending limit of $125,000 was greater than the median household income in America. (But even this wasn’t enough for the very wealthy!) It is quite easy to see that most Americans, myself and likely you too, no longer have an equal voice in setting the national agenda. Some call this Free Speech. But when the ability to have one’s voice heard is given to fewer and fewer people of greater and greater wealth the endpoint is clearly not the Free Speech envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
Only a constitutional amendment is able to overrule the Supreme Court. As it now stands, all legislation passed to limit corporate and big $$$ influences in our elections can simply be ruled ‘unconstitutional’. However, ultimately the power of our government resides in We, the People and the framers of the constitution gave us Article V, the power and mechanism to amend, when necessary, the United States’ guiding document. SJRes 19 is an example of Americans exercising this constitutional right and WOULD NOT repeal the First Amendment but strengthen it to protect ordinary citizens’ free speech from being inundated by the rich and powerful. SJRes 19 does not regulate money in elections directly. It does, however, allow our elected representatives to make democracy the same for all Americans because if money can buy speech then speech is not free.