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What happened in the US Senate yesterday? (Hint: They’re not trying to overturn Citizens United anymore.)

Money Corrputs by Light Brigading via Flikr

photo by Light Brigading via flikr

Yesterday, the Senate GOP voted to block any further consideration of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

That means the amendment won’t go over to the House of Representatives for a vote.

And it won’t go out to the 50 states for a ratification vote.

The proposed amendment would have explicitly authorized Congress and state legislatures to set campaign finance limits. (Read more about Citizens United and the resulting “unprecedented amounts of outside spending” in the 2010 and 2012 elections here.)

So… those 16 states that have already voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United? Sorry, folks.

All those other states – including New Hampshire – whose state Legislatures have shown interest in a constitutional amendment? Sorry, folks.

Those 80% of ordinary Americans – including 72% of ordinary Republicans – who oppose Citizens United? Sorry, folks.

The Senate GOP knows better than you do.

So you don’t get a vote on this.

Who to thank, for taking the states’ vote away? The 42 GOP Senators who voted to block the amendment yesterday.

citizens_united_switched_votesOr, more bizarrely, the 25 Senators who on Monday night voted to let the amendment proceed – but by Thursday afternoon, had changed their votes to block it. (And yes, that would include New Hampshire’s own Senator Kelly Ayotte.)

If those 25 Senators had voted the same way on Thursday as they voted on Monday, the constitutional amendment would be going to the House. And then, maybe, out to the 50 states for ratification votes.

So… what happened during those 68 hours, to make those 25 Senators change their votes?

Can’t tell for sure, from out here in the hinterlands. The news is full of the Oscar Pistorius case… 9/11 remembrances… the Ray Rice case… ISIS and the spectre of terrorism. But there’s relatively little press coverage of this attempt to amend our Constitution.  The 80% of Americans who oppose Citizens United probably don’t even know that the Senate took a vote yesterday.

Here’s my best guess: I think Mitch McConnell happened. I’m guessing that the Senate GOP Leader told them how to vote… and the 25 Senators did. (Even Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, more commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act.)

That’s just a gut-instinct guess, but there are two things behind it.  First, during Committee consideration of the amendment, the GOP members marched in lockstep to oppose the amendment. Every recorded Subcommittee and Committee vote was strictly along party lines.

Second reason: GOP Leader McConnell has opposed campaign finance limits since… well, it seems like forever.

Take some time and listen to the GOP Leader’s speech at a June “retreat” for billionaires organized by the Koch Brothers.

In his remarks, GOP Leader McConnell tracks the history of campaign finance reform efforts “back to the beginning of the 20th century” … and how they “petered out” during “the great prosperity” of the 1920s. (Do you think he remembers how the 1920s ended?)

He reminisces about his own efforts to block passage of campaign finance reform:

We had filibuster after filibuster, which in my first term in the Senate I was leading. And then it came back again in the first two years of Clinton. The bill would pass the House, the bill would pass the Senate, and then it would go to conference. And I was so determined, I came up with a new filibuster. That’s all I’d ever done before was filibuster and go in, go into conference. We had to do it all night long. Under (inaudible) procedure every senator had an hour, and if you didn’t show up right on time, you were out of luck.

Everybody rallied together. This was about two months before the great fall election of 1994. Everybody rallied together. We went around the clock. Everybody showed up on time. And I thought, well, maybe we’re finally through with this nonsense.

He says “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law.”

He talks about his own lawsuit to overturn McCain-Feingold. (You can read the Supreme Court decision here.)

He talks about what has happened since his lawsuit.

So what really then changed the Court was President Bush’s appointment of John Roberts. The most important was Sam Alito because we lost the McCain-Feingold case five to four because of Sandra Day O’Connor. The majority was all liberal. Then she retired, and Sam Alito replaced her, and we now have the best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory… Now, that’s where we are today. I’m really proud of this Supreme Court and the way they’ve been dealing with the issue of First Amendment political speech. It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.

And then he talks about some other things of interest to his audience of billionaires: like minimum wage… environmental regulation… regulation of the financial services industry. And he promises to use federal spending bills to “go after” those issues.

And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible).

And – in response to a mostly-inaudible question from David Koch about “free speech” and amending the Constitution – GOP Leader McConnell says:

Having, having struck out at the Supreme Court, David, they now want to amend the Constitution. … These people need to be stopped, and believe me, something that I thought to do (inaudible) what is spent (inaudible) independent coordination?
(Laughter.)
(Applause.)

Yeah, read that again: “These people need to be stopped.”

THAT’s why I’m guessing “Mitch McConnell happened” to those 25 Senators who switched their votes between Monday and Thursday.

What can we do about it, now? What can we – the 80% of Americans who oppose Citizens United – do, now that the Senate GOP has blocked the amendment?

We can make it a campaign issue.

Scott Brown in 2010 Image by Wiki Commons

Scott Brown in 2010
Image by Wiki Commons

Starting here in New Hampshire, with Scott Brown… who, as Massachusetts Senator, helped block the DISCLOSE Act back in 2010. Here in New Hampshire, 69% of us want a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Even among Granite State Republicans, six out of 10 want a constitutional amendment. (Sen. Ayotte: who were you listening to, when you voted yesterday?) How do you think Scott Brown will vote on this, if he is elected in November?

We need to make Citizens United an issue in the 2014 campaigns.

There’s not all that much else we can do, at this point.

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If you want to wander through Leader McConnell’s campaign finance disclosure records – including $14.8 million in “large individual contributions” – click here. Remember: that’s just contributions to his official campaign.

“Outside spending” is much harder to track. So far, during this election season, McConnell has also “been boosted by $2.2 million in positive ads, mainly by the [U.S.] Chamber. Outside Republican PACs have already spent $7 million on ads attacking his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.”

A running tally of money that “non-profits” have spent on electioneering so far in the 2014 campaign is available here.

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More information about grassroots efforts to support the “Democracy for All” amendment is available here.

Tuesday’s NHLN story about the amendment is here.

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About NH Labor News

The New Hampshire Labor News is a group of NH Workers who believe that we need to protect ourselves against the attacks on workers. We are proud union members who are working to preserve the middle class. The NHLN talks mostly about news and politics from NH. We also talk about national issues that effect working men and women here in the Granite State.
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