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Coalition Calls for Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Decision Allowing Unlimited Election Spending

The co-founders of the Free Speech for People coalition discuss why a Constitutional amendment is needed to overturn Citizens United.
 
 
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Part of the reason for the record-high campaign spending in this year’s midterm elections is the Supreme Court’s January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government cannot impose restrictions on their political speech, which cleared the way for corporations and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Earlier this month, a group of more than fifty law professors and prominent attorneys issued a letter calling on Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. We speak with two people involved with Free Speech for People, a coalition of public interest organizations that formed after the Citizens United ruling.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Part of the reason for the record-high campaign spending in this year’s midterm elections is the Supreme Court’s ruling in January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Court’s decision cleared the way for corporations, unions and other interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates.

In a five-to-four decision, the Court ruled corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government cannot impose restrictions on their political speech. The ruling has come under heavy criticism, including from President Obama, who openly criticized the Court’s decision in his State of the Union address.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, a group of more than fifty law professors and prominent attorneys, including seven former state attorneys general, issued a letter calling on Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. The letter says the Citizens United ruling, quote, "was not only wrongly decided but presents a serious danger to effective self-government of, for and by the American people, a danger which must be addressed."

The letter was drafted and circulated by Free Speech for People, a coalition of public interest groups formed after the Citizens United ruling. John Bonifaz is the co-founder and director of Free Speech for People and the legal director of Voter Action. He’s joining us from Chicopee, Massachusetts. And here in New York, we’re joined by Jeff Clements, former assistant attorney general of Massachusetts. He’s the general counsel of Free Speech for People.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jeff, let’s begin with you. Lay this out, what it is that you are calling for.

JEFF CLEMENTS: Sure, Amy, and thanks for having me here. Glad to talk about that, Juan.

Free Speech for People is a nationwide organization calling for and working for a constitutional amendment. And the Constitution provides for that process under Article V of the Constitution. It’s been used twenty-seven times before. It’s how women got the right to vote. It’s how African Americans got the right to vote. It’s how we got due process applied to the states. It’s how we made our democracy, in many ways, is through the amendment process.

And now we’re called upon to do it again, with what the Supreme Court did in Citizens United, is essentially tell the people that, look, you know that corporate power is a problem, you know that corporate money is dominating our elections, our judiciaries, our legislatures, but there’s nothing you can do about it. If that’s true, as Bill Moyers and Bob Edgar and others have said on this show and elsewhere, we have a very serious problem with democracy in this country and a real question about whether we, as a democracy and a republic, will survive as a government of the people, rather than as a plutocracy. So, Free Speech for People is committed to overturning Citizens United and reversing that decision and having the American people, of all different political persuasions, come together to say to the Court, "Actually, yes, we can regulate corporate power in our elections and elsewhere. Yes, we can do that. And the way we do that is through a constitutional amendment."

 
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