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Group Says Political Spending Amendment Would Protect Right to be Heard


BRADENTON -- A group called Common Cause says that a proposed constitutional amendment permitting new controls on political spending will restore free speech and “the voices of average, ordinary Americans in our elections."

In written testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Miles Rapoport, the group's president, asserted that Supreme Court decisions dismantling longstanding campaign finance laws have “radically altered the scope and meaning of the First Amendment” and allowed special interests to “drown out the voices of the rest of us."

“This renders speech anything but free,” Rapoport added, as “those with economic power purchase political power and undue influence over government decisions.”

“Elections are supposed to be about voters choosing their representatives,” he wrote. “That central purpose is lost if those seeking favors and policies from the government so dominate campaign spending that elected officials are more beholden to campaign donors than to constituents.”

The nonpartisan, grassroots organization filed Rapoport’s testimony as the Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on the amendment SJR 19, introduced by Sen. Tom Udall. D-NM. Both Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are slated to testify in person; Reid has promised a Senate floor debate and vote on the amendment before the end of the year.

Questions about the difference between money and speech, as well as the scope of free press protections already in the Constitution will likely dominate the debate. Udall’s draft asserts that “to advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes,” Congress and state legislators should have authority to regulate political fundraising and spending.

Common Cause has figured prominently in a national campaign to build support for changing the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s rulings in Citizens United v. FEC, McCutcheon v. FEC and other cases in which the court essentially has equated political spending with free speech. The rulings in these cases have essentially opened the floodgates for hundreds of millions of dollars to flow into state and federal campaigns, often through non-profit groups that allow donors to remain somewhat anonymous, at least to the public.

Common Cause and other supporters of the amendment argue that the flood of money gives outsized political influence to the people and groups providing it. Popular support for the amendment is considerable. Voters in Montana and Colorado and in dozens of municipalities across the country have approved ballot measures calling for an amendment. In 14 other states, state legislators have passed resolutions calling on Congress to act.


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