Amendment to Overturn Citizens United Moves Through Senate, Nobody Holds Their Breath

via Flickr Creative CommonsNew Mexico Senator Tom Udall’s proposed measure to restore Congress’ right to establish campaign spending limits passed the Senate on a 79-18 procedural vote and is now up for debate.  The amendment, which would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, remains unlikely to pass as it would need strong bipartisan support which Republicans don’t have much incentive to provide.

But that doesn’t mean the entirety of the body politic should acquiesce. Debate is necessary to raise the public’s awareness about big money’s impact on politics, especially in this midterm election year. Udall should be applauded.

The issue highlights the ideological differences between the parties. Republicans tend to support money in politics as thinly veiled “free speech.”  A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he “welcomes the debate” but, “to be clear, there is zero support on our side for rewriting the First Amendment to restrict free speech.”


For Democrats this is an opportunity to find out just how unpopular Citizens United is when put in plain view.  In an op-ed for The Hill, Senator Udall and former Senator Alan Simpson said of Citizens United:

“This is tortured logic that leads to an unacceptable result – that a citizen’s access to a constitutional right is dependent on his or her net worth. A result that says the wealthy get to shout, but the rest of you may only whisper.”

Amendment co-sponsor and Montana Senator Jon Tester also has strong words for Citizens United:

“What makes America great is that everyone has a say in the decisions that we make.  That each one of us from the richest to the poorest, has an equal stake in electing our leaders, but the Supreme Court can’t seem to figure that out. “

Minnesota Senator Al Franken labeled Citizens United a “disaster,” calling it “one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions.”

The proposed amendment would allow congress and states to “set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”  It would also allow federal and state governments to prohibit election spending by corporations.  

Perhaps the most impassioned speech in favor of the amendment was given by progressive favorite Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Watch:

As the Washington Post notes, right-wing objections to campaign finance reform reveal an ideological shift over time:

Past versions of the constitutional amendment — which has been introduced in various forms beginning in 1986 — have been co sponsored by Republicans such as Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

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