WASHINGTON (CN) – Senate Democrats said Tuesday on the steps of the nation’s highest court that the only way to get special interests out of politics is to do away with the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling by amending the U.S. Constitution.
Democratic senators like New Mexico’s Tom Udall, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and others were joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York for the unveiling of Udall’s proposed Democracy for All Amendment – a bill which, if ratified, would become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that campaign contributions amplify speech, therefore any restrictions on political spending by corporations is a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech clause.
For critics, the high court’s ruling set a course for subversion of the political process because it treats corporations and people as if they have equal footing and access to the same monetary might.
For those that heralded the 2010 ruling, Citizens United represented a protection of high court precedent established in 1978 under First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which recognized that corporations not only have a right to free speech, but also that the value of speech does not hinge on the identity of the speaker.
In the last decade, Citizens United has faced many would-be challengers. Durbin noted during Tuesday’s press conference that the Democracy for All Amendment was brought to the Senate floor in 2014 but was promptly filibustered by one of Citizens United’s most fervent supporters: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“With a new leader by the name of Schumer in the Senate, we can be sure that it wouldn’t be a filibuster stopping us next time,” Durbin said, referring to the long-shot possibility of Democrats taking control of the Senate in the 2020 election.
The Supreme Court’s ruling was a win “for the rich and powerful,” Schumer said Tuesday.
“It has no basis in constitutional law… we will stop it, we must stop it and our democracy depends on it,” he said. “Overturning Citizens United is more important than any other single thing we could do to preserve this great and grand democracy.”
But the chances of the amendment being approved are very slim. In order for an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must receive a two-thirds vote of approval from both the House and Senate and ratification by at least 38 states.
Among American voters, though, the reversal of Citizens United has considerable support.
A 2018 survey conducted by the University of Maryland and nonpartisan research group Voice of the People found that roughly 75% of those polled said they want to see an amendment passed which would meaningfully reduce the influence campaign contributions have on elections.
Udall’s amendment will be a key argument for Democrats running against President Donald Trump in 2020.
Seven presidential candidates – including Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California , Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennett of Colorado – have all thrown their support behind the bill.
All of the candidates have rejected contributions from corporate super PACs, decisions that follow in the steps of grassroots, small-donor movements.
According to Democratic fundraising nonprofit ActBlue, small donors gave $420 million to roughly 9,000 individual Democratic and progressive organizations from January to June alone.
Republicans are having a harder time closing the gap on small donations, and infighting has broken out among the GOP about how to rally donors and what fundraising platforms to use. For example, WinRed, a Republican National Committee-backed fundraising tool championed by President Trump’s re-election committee, is supposed to be the preferred platform for GOP politicians but several Republican incumbents in the Senate have yet to make the transition from other platforms, despite threats of legal action.
Ultimately, small donations may not be Republicans’ bread-and-butter. During the 2018 midterm election, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, poured a whopping $159 million into political races across the nation, a full $63 million more than the Democrats’ own House fund raised that year.