Amend the Constitution to reclaim democracy from big-money politics

We need to declare independence again!

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Even before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that some corporations have a “religious” right to deny female employees access to contraception, it was hard to imagine anyone credibly complaining that corporations don’t have enough power over Washington, D.C., and the lives of ordinary Americans.

Whether it’s bailouts for the Wall Street firms that crashed our economy, taxpayer handouts for the polluting industries that fuel catastrophic climate change or a “health care” system that protects insurance company profits more than our poorest citizens’ access to care, the tremendous extent which corporate money distorts our political process and damages the public interest is clear.

When will the tide at least begin to turn?

The surprising answer to that question: maybe in a few weeks.

In a few weeks, the U.S. Senate is likely to vote on an amendment to the Constitution that would restore the First Amendment to the American people.

The proposed 28th amendment would be the first step toward undoing the damage of the Supreme Court’s disastrous rulings in Citizens United — which allows corporations, organizations or individuals to spend unlimited sums to influence elections — and McCutcheon — which eliminated aggregate contribution limits to candidates and parties for individuals.

In these and other recent campaign finance rulings, the Supreme Court has weakened the First Amendment rights of the 99 percent of Americans who are not executives of multinational corporations or billionaire oligarchs. In part due to these sorts of decisions, confidence in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government is at a near-record low.

Voters in Pennsylvania are acutely aware of the increasing sums flooding our elections. In the hard-fought 2012 election for U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania voters endured a bevy of negative ads funded by big money super PACs and shadowy nonprofit political groups. All told, these groups spent $5.5 million to influence the outcome. 2010 was even worse. That year outside groups spent more than $30 million in the Senate race.

On the left and the right, those who fund the loudest, meanest campaign ads and those who dole out the biggest political contributions set the terms of the debate. By the time the public gets to vote, the ballot has already been whittled down to those who are coziest with the special interests. And whoever is elected must tread lightly lest they find themselves in the crosshairs of a super PAC-funded attack campaign next election. The result is absolutely devastating to our republic.

As both targets and recipients of the onslaught of special interest money overwhelming elections post-Citizens United, Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican, should understand this dynamic better than most. And they have a golden opportunity to change it and leave the legislative branch better than they found it.

This Independence Day, let’s urge our senators to declare independence from special-interest campaign cash.

Both should sponsor and vote yes on Senate Joint Resolution 19 to affirm that they stand with the vast majority of Americans who want the real voices of real people to matter more than the money that corporations and the super-rich funnel into our political system.

The tide can turn. We can restore our democracy. Our senators can take bold, patriotic stances and start the essential work of weeding out corruption in our political system.

I can think of no better way for our senators to start than by declaring their support for a 28th Amendment, and, thereby, giving the voters in Pennsylvania and across the country that much more reason to celebrate this Fourth of July.

Rick Claypool works for Public Citizen, a public interest advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. (rclaypool@citizen.org). He lives in Forest Hills.


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