Get big money out of politics: Why we need a constitutional amendment for limits on campaign donations
October 12, 2014 12:00 AM
By Susan H. Parker
As we approach the November elections, races are being flooded with money from outside spenders. For example, in just nine of the top U.S. Senate races, well over $72 million already has been spent by outside groups, and more than half that money was from undisclosed sources.
Just a few weeks ago, a historic Senate vote took place to restore the principle of democracy on which our country was founded. The legislation to adopt a constitutional amendment that would allow limits on campaign spending would overturn a series of shortsighted Supreme Court decisions that have allowed billionaires and corporations to buy our elections.
Thank you, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, for listening to your constituents by co-sponsoring and voting “yes” on the Democracy for All Amendment. Shame on Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who not only voted “no” on the amendment, but also was one of 19 senators who voted “no” on even allowing the amendment to be debated.
In the end, the measure received a majority of Senate votes, 54-42, but did not reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Some might see this as a defeat. I, however, see this as one of the biggest legislative victories in a long time. And it gives me hope.
It gives me hope because, just a few years ago, Congress never would have considered bringing this bill up for a vote. Now, a majority of senators are on record favoring a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics.
It gives me hope because the number of grass-roots activists pushing for an amendment has skyrocketed in the past four and a half years since the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that essentially said corporations and the wealthy could spend unlimited sums to influence our elections. Americans are fed up with the corrupt campaign finance system, and they are ready and willing to fight back.
And it gives me hope to see that this is not just a Democratic issue. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support a constitutional amendment, by a 2-1 margin, with strong support coming from Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.
Americans are disgusted by the choke-hold big money has on our elections. And they are furious with the Supreme Court for turning our democracy into a plutocracy. A string of misguided Supreme Court rulings — Citizens United, McCutcheon and Buckley — opened the doors for the super-rich and giant corporations to pour money into our elections at record levels.
In Pennsylvania, we have seen the impact. In 2012, super PACs and shadowy nonprofit political groups spent $5.5 million to influence the outcome of the U.S. Senate race. This money went to fund negative ads that filled the airwaves and ultimately stole control of campaign narratives from the candidates themselves.
So far this year, outside spending on the midterm elections nationally has surpassed $241 million, which is more than three times what was spent at this point in 2010. Facts like these leave voters like me wondering if candidates, once they are in office, will keep our best interests in mind or do the bidding of those who financed their campaigns. Facts like these also fuel the movement to put our election system back in the hands of We the People.
The progress we have made in the past four years is astounding: 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns have supported an amendment, more than 3 million citizens have signed petitions for an amendment, tens of thousands of people have called congressional offices demanding an amendment, hundreds of demonstrations have taken place throughout the country and, now, a majority of U.S. senators have voted for a constitutional amendment.
The momentum of this movement will not let up. We will continue to fight to restore a government that is of, by and for the people. And the day is not far off that we will celebrate the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Susan H. Parker is a retired master gardener, most recently with the Penn State Master Gardener Program of Allegheny County, who lives in Shaler (firstname.lastname@example.org). She served for 10 years as a Republican member of Cheswick Borough Council but more recently has worked for Democratic candidates.
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