Citizens United vs. FEC has become the benchmark case for campaign finance. In it, the Supreme Court said that political ads were protected under free speech rights and should not be limited by campaign contribution laws. As a result, indirect campaign spending through Political Action Committees has been largely unchecked, and mega-donors have been the major players in campaign finance ever since.
In an effort to fix the law and (allegedly) rein in campaign spending, Senate Democrats tried to put together a constitutional amendment aimed directly at the Citizens United ruling. A Republican filibuster defeated that amendment. On the surface, an amendment to fix exorbitant campaign spending seems like a good idea. But what was at stake in the proposed amendment?
The 2010 Citizens United ruling struck down restrictions that had barred corporations and unions from spending money from their general treasury funds to support or oppose candidates. In McCutcheon, the court struck aggregate limits on individual contributions to candidates.
Democrats argued the Supreme Court decision has allowed billionaires to flood the campaign spending system with “dark money” in order to buy election results.
The amendment from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) would have authorized Congress and the states to regulate and limit fundraising and spending on federal candidates.
It also would have prohibited the Supreme Court from reversing any future campaign finance legislation passed by Congress.
The Democrats will likely use the Republican filibuster as campaign fodder: “Don’t let the Republicans buy elections! Vote for me!” The Republicans will respond by saying that this is just a protection of First Amendment rights. I don’t really believe either of them. This is, as usual, just party politics.
Since Citizens United, spending by Republican mega-donors has been far more than spending by Democrat mega-donors. So it stands to reason that Democrats would want to reduce campaign spending. This would take away a Republican advantage. And it also makes sense that Republicans would want to preserve their edge.
This doesn’t have anything to do with right and wrong. As has been the case in government for quite some time now, this is again about right and left. Are we tired of this yet?