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New England News

Sanders Introduces Amendment To Strike Down Citizens United

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Supports and opponents agree: it was a decision that changed American politics. Now, on the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United — which led to the rise of super PACs and millions in spending in election campaigns — Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a constitutional amendment to undo the ruling.

In announcing his Democracy is for People amendment Wednesday, Senator Sanders warned that American democracy is under attack and Citizens United must be reversed.  “As a result of Citizens United billionaires and multimillionaires are now able to buy American democracy. So if we are concerned about restoring the middle class in this country, making sure that people have decent wages and the environmental crisis of climate change where the energy companies are putting so much money into the political process, we have got to overturn Citizens United. Which in my view will go down in history as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever. And furthermore we have got to move toward public funding of elections.”

This is not the first time Vermont’s junior senator has submitted a constitutional amendment to abolish Citizens United. He tried in just the last Congress.  Middlebury College Political Science Chair Bert Johnson has little confidence in the success of the amendment.  “I think it’s a very, very big long shot. I would say it serves more as rallying point for liberal activists than a realistic prospect.”

In 2012 Bob Stannard, a musician and retired lobbyist, partnered with Todd Bailey to form the Priorities PAC, the first super-PAC created in Vermont. Stannard explains its unique goal.  “Unlike any other PAC in the country the whole principle and the genesis behind our super-PAC was to create a super-PAC to end super-PACs. We wanted to draw attention to exactly what super-PACs were doing to undermine democracy in America. Citizens United, I would agree with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is the single worst decision that our Supreme Court has ever made in the history of this country.  The day that decision was made was the day that we lost the democracy in this country. Those who are incredibly wealthy get to buy our government and those who vote don’t.”

Middlebury’s Professor Johnson says the true impact of Citizens United is complex.  “It has definitely had an impact on elections although one could argue that it has shifted where money has gone more than actually increased the aggregate amount of money in election campaigns. Now I know that sounds weird because there’s definitely more money being spent now than there was five or ten years ago. But the question is not whether there’s more money being spent now, it’s whether there would have been just as much money being spent now had Citizens United not passed. And campaign finance costs have been going up and up and up since the 1970's at least regardless of the regulatory framework.”

John McClaughry is Vice President of Vermont’s conservative-leaning Ethan Allen Institute. He sees Sanders’ attempt to overturn Citizens United as futile and merely fodder for his possible presidential soapbox.  “First of all this is his third or fourth attempt including his cosponsorship of SJ-Res19 the similar measure that failed in the last democratic Congress, Senate. This is clearly not going anywhere and its clearly a talking point for a prospective presidential campaign by Senator Sanders.”

To read the amendment, click here.

For a fact sheet on the amendment, click here.

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