WASHINGTON -- House Democrats opened another front in the battle to ban the flood of unregulated cash in politics, proposing their own version of a constitutional amendment aimed at reversing the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision on Monday. Introduced by Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), the proposed legislation follows the Nov. 1 introduction of a similar amendment by Senate Democrats.
"Because of the impact of Citizens United, people are questioning whether government serves corporate interests or voters back home," said Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), co-sponsor of the legislation. "We need to make sure that government serves the voters."
The proposed amendment would grant Congress the power to regulate campaign contributions to federal candidates and expenditures concerning federal elections; the same powers would be granted to the states with respect to state elections. The amendment would essentially reverse the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which found that corporations have the right to spend unlimited sums of money in federal elections.
"[T]he one thing that overcomes political obstructionism is the American people making up their mind that they want to see a change," Heinrich said. "I think that the introduction of this is designed to sort of get the snowball rolling, but it's the American people that will make sure this continues toward a real outcome."
Occupy Wall Street supporters will likely be pleased with such an amendment as the movement has pushed overturning the Citizens United ruling as one of its central demands.
"Their complaint about the fact that things are so out of balance in this country -- that there's just too much paying attention to what corporations need right now and not paying attention to what the average, hardworking play-by-the-rules family needs -- is absolutely valid," Heinrich said, suggesting that Congress needs to "fix that."
Like the proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate, the House legislation faces a long, challenging path. Heinrich said the amendment's sponsors hope to collect more co-sponsors even as they urge the Republican House majority to hold hearings on the matter.
Although the Disclose Act, a bill that would have required political ads to reveal their corporate sponsors, earlier met its end in the Senate, Heinrich is confident this constitutional amendment could eventually win enough support. Once it passed by a two-thirds vote in both congressional houses, of course, any amendment would still need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
"I think this is the one issue really setting people off right now and rightfully so," Heinrich said. "My hope is that that kind of intensity and passion continues, and if it does ... this is one of those issues that could unite the country."