In 2010, the late Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a scathing dissent in Citizens United v. FEC, an infamous Supreme Court ruling that gave corporations and special interest groups unprecedented power to spend on American politics. In that dissent, Stevens chided his fellow Justices for failing to recognize that corporations “are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established,” and argued that the majority ruling would unleash a tsunami of dark money into American politics.
Justice Stevens was right – Citizens United has wreaked havoc on the American political system. Luckily, there’s now a plan in motion to fix it.
Today, a group of Democratic Senators, led by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Democracy for All Amendment, a constitutional amendment to overturn this disastrous ruling and restore the democratic rights of every American. The amendment would explicitly affirm the right of Congress and state legislatures to set rules and regulations around campaign finance in public elections, including limiting campaign spending from corporations and special interest groups.
The introduction of the Democracy for All amendment is a critical first step in restoring the political imbalance wrought by Citizens United. The ruling essentially gave deep-pocketed special interests nearly unlimited power to spend on campaigns and elections at every level of government, turning our democracy into a pay-for-play system. A system like that can only result in a government by, for, and of the rich – and that’s not a government anyone should want to rule over them.
Without reasonable limits on campaign finance, politics becomes a kind of arms race as candidates compete for big money and the interests of the donors behind it. If that sounds outlandish, consider this: in a whopping 91 percent of races, the candidate who raises the most money wins. With those odds, it’s no wonder that our laws increasingly seem to reflect the wishes of the rich and powerful against vast public consensus, whether it’s a $1.8 trillion handout to the top 1 percent or tooth-and-nail opposition to raising the minimum wage. Average Americans don’t have a spare million or two to blow on candidates who support those widely popular policies, so under Citizens United, they just lose out.
The Democracy for All Amendment is aptly named, then, because it recognizes that if dollars determine elections, then democracy is only accessible to an elite few – and at that point, if democracy is only available for some, then it’s not a democracy at all.
Since this proposal is an amendment to the Constitution and not a run-of-the-mill bill in Congress, there’s still a long road to achieving that victory: for an amendment to come into effect, it must be passed by a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and Senate, and then be ratified by at least 38 states.
In spite of that, the Democracy for All Amendment represents a critical first step in that process, and one we should all applaud. The Patriotic Millionaires have long argued that everyone, rich and poor alike, should have an equal voice in our democracy – it’s time for our laws to reflect the values our country claims to represent.