President Obama and congressional leaders have vowed to fight back against Thursday morning's Supreme Court decision rolling back restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Among the possible responses under consideration: an amendment to the Constitution.
"It's time to take matters into our own hands to enact a constitutional amendment that once and for all declares that we the people govern our elections and campaigns, not we the corporations," said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) in a video produced by a coalition of progressive groups led by Public Citizen and Voter Action.
"This is a ruling that really jeopardizes the rights of ordinary Americans to have a voice in the political process," Edwards told HuffPost.
The suggested amendment would strip a corporation's personhood for First Amendment purposes. The Supreme Court ruled that federal restrictions on corporate money for campaign advertisements violated corporations' free speech rights.
There is little chance that Democrats can amend the Constitution by Election Day this coming November, if ever. Election law professor Rick Hasen called the idea "ridiculous" in a blog post on Thursday.
U.S. PIRG said that it is looking at other, more immediate options with the White House and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Said PIRG's Lisa Gilbert, "We need to do something in time for the 2010 elections."
One proposal is to reenact some corporate spending limits, though it's unclear how such a move could avoid an immediate and successful legal challenge. Another proposal, which Gilbert said has already been drafted, would give corporate shareholders a binding say over a corporation's spending on political advertisements. And several members of Congress have called for renewed support of the Fair Elections Now Act in the wake of the decision. The bill would create a public financing system for campaigns in which small donors' contributions are matched by federal funds.
Donna Edwards, for her part, was skeptical of those options, saying the shareholder proposal would be ineffective because it would apply on a "corporation-by-corporation" basis. Besides, she said, shareholders already have that ability. In her view, the constitutional amendment, which would need to be ratified by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of the states, is the only way to go.
"I think the Supreme Court has actually left us with no choice," she said. "We hoped the court would have had a little more of a mixed ruling that would have left us with some options."
Most Republicans have praised the ruling, but RNC chairman Michael Steele sounded an uneasy note: "While the Court's recognition that organizations have the freedom to speak on public issues and have their views protected from censorship is fundamental, the Court has now left an imbalance that disadvantages national parties in their ability to support their candidates."
The RNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Democrats' ideas.
The various proposals are still taking shape as policymakers scour the 183 page ruling. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he planned to work with colleagues in the Senate to "explore every option to make sure that we do not turn back the clock on decades of precedent that was designed to prevent big corporation special interests from corrupting the political process."
One Democrat, Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, didn't bother to wait for the court to deliver its widely-expected decision. Last week, the outspoken freshman introduced several bills, including the Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act and the Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act, to stymie corporate influence in elections.
The coalition of progressive groups also launched a website (http://freespeechforpeople.org/) to drum up support for reform. Here's the video:
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