- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ex-Justice John Paul Stevens, in an unusually blunt presentation in a political setting for a former member of the Supreme Court, told a Senate hearing Wednesday that a constitutional amendment was needed to fix the nation’s broken system for financing political campaign.

Mr. Stevens, who authored the dissenting opinion in the 2010 landmark Citizens United decision striking down key campaign donation laws, said Congress needed to step in to correct wrongheaded decisions by the court where he once served.

“We need an amendment to the Constitution to correct that error,” Mr. Stevens said.

“While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech,” said the 94-year-old justice, who did not take questions from lawmakers after his presentation.

“Speech is only one of the activities that are financed by campaign contributions and expenditures. … After all, campaign funds were used to finance the Watergate burglary, actions that clearly were not protected by the First Amendment.”

But Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, while praising the justice effusively took the opposite tack at the Senate Rules Committee hearing, arguing that the best solution would be to “allow individuals unlimited contributions to candidates and to require immediate disclosure.”

“Campaign finance reform is always about silencing” outsiders challenging the political status quo, Mr. Cruz said.

“Let’s stop demonizing citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights,” added Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the ranking Republican on the panel. “The First Amendment does not allow us to silence those who oppose us.”

Sen. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat, countered that the goal of the hearing was to find a meaningful role for Congress in the face of potentially unlimited political spending by corporations, unions, PACs and wealthy individuals.

“Free and fair elections are a founding principle of our democracy, the should not be for sale to the highest bidder,” Mr. Udall said.

Sen. Angus King, Maine independent, argued strong disclosure standards, saying that anyone wishing to contribute to a political cause should be willing to have that donation known.

“You can’t come to a town meeting with a bag over your head,” he said.

Citing recent revelations of IRS targeting of conservative and tea party groups, Mr. Roberts pressed Federal Election Commission Vice Chair Ann Ravel on if there was widespread discussion of the Republican Party at the agency.

“In my six months at the FEC I have never heard any partisan communications by either employees or commissioners,” Ms. Ravel said.

Mr. Roberts, however, was skeptical, “That must be one agency that’s an island in the sun.”

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