Warning that "American democracy in endangered," Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that allowed unrestricted and secret campaign spending by corporations on U.S. elections. The first constitutional amendment ever proposed by Sanders during his two decades in Congress would reverse the narrow 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.
In that controversial decision almost two years ago, justices gave corporations the same First Amendment free-speech rights as people.
"There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by a constitutional amendment," Sanders said of the effort to override the court decision that he labeled "a complete undermining of democracy."
Sanders' Saving American Democracy Amendment would make clear that corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as people and that corporations may be regulated by Congress and state legislatures. It also would preserve the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. It would incorporate a century-old ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates, and establish broad authority for Congress and states to regulate spending in elections.
Sanders proposal in the Senate is a companion measure to a constitutional amendment introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). "The dominance of corporations in Washington has imperiled the economic security of the American people and left our citizens profoundly disenchanted with our democracy," the congressman said. "I look forward to working with Sen. Sanders to save American democracy by banning all corporate spending in our elections and cracking down on secret front groups using anonymous corporate cash to undermine the public interest."
Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, praised the proposal. "Sen. Sanders' amendment returns us to shared understandings that democracy is for people. Public Citizen applauds and endorses the amendment, and thanks Sen. Sanders for his long-time campaign to reduce excessive corporate power."
Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, also applauded the amendment. She said it would "root out the rank corruption of our elections by for-profit corporations." No other amendment proposed in the Senate, she added, "has so definitively confronted the twin problems created by judges who have improperly granted rights to corporations, without democratic consent, and who have used their seats on the bench to favor the wishes of corporate CEOs."
A proposed amendment originating in Congress must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate in order to be submitted for consideration by the states. Ratification by three-fourths of the states is required to amend the Constitution.