Last night, the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United moved one tiny step forward. By a 79-18 vote, the US Senate invoked cloture to end a GOP filibuster of the measure.
That means the Senate will actually be able to vote on the amendment, probably later this week. But will it pass? One Hill reporter says, “The amendment is almost certain to fail.”
That’s because constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote in the Senate – and until last night, the Senate GOP had been working in lockstep to defeat (or undermine) the measure. Every recorded Subcommittee and Committee vote was strictly along party lines: with the Democrats in favor of moving the proposal forward; and the Republicans trying to keep it from seeing the light of day.
So even though some GOP Senators (including NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte) voted to end the filibuster last night, it’s quite possible they will be pressured into voting against the amendment when it comes up for a vote.
If the Senate approves the amendment, it will still need to be approved by the House and ratified by two-thirds of the states. (Read more about the process here.)
What’s at stake: The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission helped unleash unprecedented amounts of outside spending in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. (Read more here.)
It has led to billionaires like Sheldon Adelson wielding incredible personal influence.
It led to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell making a pilgrimage to a “secret strategy conference of conservative millionaire and billionaire donors hosted by the Koch brothers” where he promised to block debate on “all these gosh darn proposals” like increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and allowing students to refinance their college loans.
Now, Mitch McConnell may believe – as he told those prospective donors – that “all Citizens United did was to level the playing field for corporate speech…. We now have, I think, the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times. The Supreme Court allowed all of you to participate in the process in a variety of different ways.”
But America is seeing through that spin.
Sixteen states have already endorsed the idea of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
More than 500 local governments have already supported such a change. (Here in the Granite State, the list includes: Alstead; Amherst; Andover; Atkinson; Barnstead; Barrington; Bradford; Bridgewater; Chesterfield; Conway; Deerfield; Eaton; Exeter; Francestown; Henniker; Hampstead; Hudson; Kingston; Lee; Lyme; New Boston; Northwood; Rindge; Tilton; Wakefield; Webster; and Windham)
And the public? America is united on this issue. There is more agreement on overturning Citizens United than on just about anything else. 80% of Americans – and 72% of Republicans – oppose Citizens United. Here in New Hampshire, 69% of Granite Staters support a constitutional amendment like the one the Senate will finally be voting on. (Amendment supporters include six out of every 10 NH Republicans, and almost three-quarters of NH independents. Senator Kelly Ayotte, are you listening?)
So this past weekend, the GOP tried out some new spins, trying to rationalize why they will be voting against something that eight out of 10 Americans support.
New Spin #1: It’s the Democrats! “‘Senate Democrats have long been funded by a group of billionaires bent on maintaining their power, yet they pretend to be outraged’ by the spending of the Koch brothers and their allies. …In advance of Monday’s floor debate, Senate Republican staffers circulated a chart showing the reach of Democracy Alliance…”
(No, this spin does not explain why Republicans want to maintain the Citizens United status quo. If the Republicans and the Koch Brothers are truly outraged by Democratic big-dollar contributors – why don’t they vote to approve the constitutional amendment?)
New Spin #2: Guns! (Yes, really.)
Here’s how the National Rifle Association described Citizens United: “The court declared unconstitutional the parts of the law that had been enacted for the explicit purpose of silencing the NRA and its members. Of course, the gun-banners in the White House and Congress opposed the decision because it thwarted their plans.”
Here’s how the NRA described the amendment to overturn Citizens United: “As the title of the proposed constitutional amendment suggests, S.J.R. 19 is intended to allow anti-gunners in Congress to silence their critics and to control the gun ‘debate.’”
(The actual title: “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.” And: while the NRA may be #5 on the list of non-profits that spend money on electioneering… the proposed amendment isn’t actually about guns. It’s about allowing Congress and the states to “regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.” It’s about “protect[ing] the integrity of government and the electoral process.”)
Does the GOP really think either of these spins is going to stick any better than the “Citizens United leveled the playing field” spin?
Why is this such an important issue for those of us in the Labor movement?
Reason 1: “Whatever slice [of political contributions] you look at, business interests dominate, with an overall advantage over organized labor of about 15-to-1. Even among PACs – the favored means of delivering funds by labor unions – business has a more than 3-to-1 fundraising advantage. In soft money, the ratio is nearly 17-to-1.”
Reason 2: Mitch McConnell, shilling for those billionaire donors: “In late April, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, successfully filibustered a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a widely popular measure that would increase wages for at least 16.5 million Americans. Earlier in the year, McConnell also led a filibuster of a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to some 1.7 million Americans.”
Is our government really for sale to the highest bidder?
The 2014 campaigns are breaking fundraising records set in the 2012 and 2010 elections.
Isn’t it time to send this constitutional amendment to the states for a ratification vote?