US lawmaker proposes amendment limiting corporate campaign spending

[JURIST] Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) [official website] on Thursday introduced a constitutional amendment that would exclude a corporation's First Amendment [text] rights to spend money on political campaigns. Named the Saving American Democracy Amendment [text, PDF] the proposal would make clear that corporations are not afforded the same constitutional rights as people and that the political activities of corporations can be regulated by the government. Sanders added that the law would also ban unlimited corporate campaign contributions to candidates. The amendment, he stated [transcript], was created to counteract the controversial 5-4 ruling by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [JURIST report] that a corporation possesses the same First Amendment free speech rights as that of a person:

The Constitution of this country has served us well, but when the Supreme Court says that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger. ... I strongly disagree with the ruling. In my view, a corporation is not a person. A corporation does not have First Amendment rights to spend as much money as it wants, without disclosure, on a political campaign. Corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries and spend millions and millions of dollars on a campaign in order to buy elections.
Sanders concluded that even though a number of bills have been proposed as a counteraction to the Supreme Court's ruling, the most effective way to reverse the alleged error is to send a "constitutional amendment to the states that says simply and straightforwardly what everyone, except five members of the United States Supreme Court, understands: Corporations are not people with equal constitutional rights."

The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United has remained controversial since it was issued in January 2010. Last year, Congress failed to advance campaign finance reform [JURIST report] put forth by members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris van Hollen (D-MD) [official websites] proposed legislation [JURIST report] as well as amended legislation [JURIST report] that would ban foreign companies, companies controlled by foreign companies or governments, government contractors and recipients of the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) [official website] funds from contributing to US elections. The proposed legislation also called for corporate CEOs to report their political spending to the Federal Election Committee [official website]. The administration of President Barack Obama [official website] has likewise been publicly critical [JURIST report] of the Supreme Court's decision, most notably in the president's State of the Union Address [transcript] in January 2010 where he remarked that the the ruling "will open to floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."

 

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