In the wake of the Citizens United ruling that allowed for unlimited and undisclosed corporate political spending, many progressives called for a constitutional amendment to overturn it. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is one of them, and he’s not impressed by arguments that such an effort is too time-consuming or complicated. “Yes, it’s hard to amend the constitution, but it’s been done 27 times before so I feel our chances are pretty good,” he told attendees at the Take Back the American Dream conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
Secret corporate spending on candidates created by the Federal Election Commission vs. Citizens United is now the bane of any progressive candidate running for any office at any level. At least for the foreseeable future, unlimited corporate dollars favor Republican candidates. And because the decision was made by the Supreme Court, no amount of legislation can fix it.
Amending the constitution is a significant challenge. Not only must such an amendment be approved by a two-thirds majority in both the U.S. House and Senate, but it must also be passed by three-fourths of the states. One of the few chances for the Supreme Court to reverse its decision in Citizens United will come to them via an appeal to the January Montana Supreme Court decision upholding the state’s anti-corruption law that seemed directly counter to the precedent established by Citizens United. Unless Chief Justice Roberts and his allies on the court change their minds, a constitutional amendment remains the only way to challenge unlimited corporate spending to super PACs.
When Raw Story asked if Ellison worried about the time it could take to make such an amendment an reality, he replied, “Do you know of another way?”
Already Congress has introduced 12 resolutions to begin the process of amending the constitution, including one chiefly sponsored by Ellison.
“This is 100 percent about power,” Ellison said. “This is about one class of persons trying to exert power over another class of persons.”
Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D), who teaches constitutional law at American University, pointed out that the path the Supreme Court set America on is a dangerous one. Not only is the Supreme Court privileging corporate money as speech, in many cases they have made decisions that overrule laws designed to balance out corporate spending with public money.
“In our history there’s always been a contest between power and justice,” Raskin said and noted that justice is the harder fight. “I want businesses to prosper in my district, but I don’t want them to govern.”
If such a constitutional amendment were to be successful, it would take a sustained effort at the grassroots level — and likely a bipartisan one. Ellison thinks it can happen. “This is an issue that can galvanize us across the political spectrum.”
Last week, a coalition of groups and congressional offices, including Ellison’s, worked on Resolution Week, which saw more than 200 state and local governments to protest Citizens United though resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling.
The movement is taking a grassroots approach at the church level as well. Rev. Barry Hargrove of Prince of Peace Baptist Church in east Baltimore said that among his congregation which is mostly African American and has some Latinos, “There’s an indignation that’s real prevalent.”
Whether this grassroots effort will sustain the energy and funding through the years — or even decades — it would take to make such a constitutional amendment a reality remains to be seen.
[Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) via the Center for American Progress Action Fund / Flickr]
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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