Citizen’s United and the New Age of Super-PAC’s

We need a Constitutional Amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, which has paved the way for the current “Super-PAC” era of American politics.

Unfortunately, we live in a new political environment—The “Super-PAC” era.  The legal contributions of a few rich individuals and corporations are drowning out the voices of the citizens who comprise our democracy.

The campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a good example.   In past years, Gingrich would have been forced to drop out of the race much earlier than he did for lack of donors.  But this year, because the United States Supreme Court has effectively eliminated contribution limits, the Gingrich campaign held on way too long, funded almost entirely by one person – casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/31/us/politics/super-pac-donors.html).  Adelson, who makes his money from gambling operations in Las Vegas and Communist China, has single-handedly sustained Gingrich with over ten million dollars in donations – in 2008, Gingrich would have needed over 4,000 individual contributors to raise that much money.

Of course, there has always been money in politics, but never have single individuals funded entire Presidential campaigns, effectively silencing millions of Americans supporting other candidates.

How did we get here?  In January 2010, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court issued Citizens United, in which it held that there could be virtually no limits placed on campaign contributions by corporations.  Shortly thereafter, federal courts extended Citizens United to individuals, allowing people like Adelson to get around the $2,500 contribution limit by donating to Super PAC’s.  Justice Stephens, dissenting against the Citizens United ruling, cautioned that it “threatened to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”  Just two years later, we see how right he was.

Thankfully, the effort to repeal Citizens United and safeguard our democracy has begun. Earlier this year, six United States Senators introduced a proposed Constitutional Amendment (http://www.scribd.com/doc/71154073/A-Constitutional-Amendment-to-Reform-Campaign-Finance) that would return to the federal and state governments the power to regulate campaign contributions.  In the words of Senator Tom Udall: “Letting this go unchecked is a threat to our democracy. Campaigns should be about the best ideas, not the biggest checkbooks.”  The measure must pass both houses of Congress before being submitted to the states for ratification, and while passage is unlikely soon, the political uproar caused by the Citizens United decision makes me hopeful that in the not too distant future Congress will pass the Amendment.

So that Tennessee will be first in line to ratify the new provision, Tennessee Democrats filed a House Resolution (http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HJR1149&ga=107) on April 27, 2012, calling for the repeal of Citizens United.  It’s time to return the political process to the American people.

Not surprisingly, the Republican-dominated Tennessee House had little interest in repealing Citizens United this year.  But over time, I am hopeful that we will be able to obtain fifty co-sponsors committed to real government “by the people.”

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