- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Senate Democrats announced an effort Tuesday to amend the Constitution and give Congress more power to control spending in political campaigns, moving to overturn decades of First Amendment case law.

The immediate target is the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed interest groups to spend their money on advertising — though they still cannot donate directly to political campaigns.

But the proposed Democracy for All Amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, would go further and overturn a series of rulings that have found campaign spending is political speech and therefore guaranteed the highest levels of protection under the First Amendment.

“Corporations are not people and your net worth shouldn’t determine your right to free speech,” the New Mexico Democrat said.

The seven senators who are running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have signed on to the amendment.

Curtailing the effects of Citizens United has been a goal of Democrats since the 5-4 ruling was issued. But their efforts have regularly fallen short.

A similar proposal by Mr. Udall in 2014 reached the Senate floor, where it fell to a Republican filibuster. It earned just 54 votes, short of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster and substantially less than the two-thirds vote needed to clear the chamber.

Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said if Democrats win back the Senate in next year’s elections, they will find a way to get the amendment through.

“We are going to have a leader who is going to guide us to make sure this becomes part of the law of the land,” Mr. Durbin said.

Campaign spending has been recognized as a cornerstone of First Amendment free speech since a 1976 Supreme Court decision overturning parts of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act. Citizens United made clear that those free speech rights extended beyond campaigns, to include companies, labor unions and other interest groups that wanted to run ads backing their views during campaigns.

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, called Democrats’ new amendment a “partisan stunt” and said it “stifles free speech.”

“This amendment is total hypocrisy — Democrats pushing for an anti-Citizens United amendment at the same time they raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest money to defeat President Trump,” Mr. Bossie said.

Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate, then ratification by three-fourths of the states. Neither of those is likely given current partisan lines.

Should the measure succeed, however, it would be the 28th amendment to the founding document.

Aware of the uphill battle, Democrats have other avenues beyond changing the Constitution.

One avenue is the Disclose Act, which wouldn’t restrict how and when money could be spent, but would require more transparency from organizations that do spend in campaigns. The court in its 2010 opinion said such accountability measures do not run afoul of the First Amendment.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, has suggested boosting campaigns to be able to fight back against private spending through a government match. Contributions up to $250 to a campaign would be matched by taxpayers.

House Democrats included versions of both the public match and the Disclose Act in their massive campaign and elections overhaul bill, which cleared on a party-line vote in March.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring the bill, which he derided as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” to the floor of the Senate.

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