WASHINGTON -- In answering a question posed to him by a member of the Internet community Reddit, President Barack Obama stated his support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, the first time that the president has voiced this position himself.
In response to a question about the president's position on money in politics, Obama wrote, "Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."
The president's support for a constitutional amendment comes months after he endorsed the activities of Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that is supporting his candidacy and run by a former White House communications aide. Obama's support was billed as reluctant, but necessary.
At the time, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote a blog post explaining the endorsement of the super PAC, which also included a statement of support for a constitutional amendment, "The President opposed the Citizens United decision ...And the President favors action—by constitutional amendment, if necessary—to place reasonable limits on all such spending."
This point was later echoed by Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod and other unnamed campaign staff, but, until today's first-of-its-kind presidential trip to "the front page of the Internet," Reddit, the president had not voiced that support himself.
"We're thrilled whenever someone endorses the concept of overturning Citizens United," said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch. "It's meaningful that the president is taking note as he is forced to play the game under Citizens United."
Public Citizen has been the leading organization in the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United through its Democracy Is For People campaign. Gilbert said having the president's full-throated endorsement will help their efforts.
"Our Democracy Is For People campaign is out in full force across the country talking to candidates asking them to support this concept and having the president support this will, of course, be helpful," she said.
The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United freed corporations and unions to spend freely in elections, so long as they remained independent from candidates and parties. A lower court subsequently issued a ruling based solely on the Citizens United decision that allowed individuals to pool unlimited resources into independent political groups that would later be called super PACs.
In the wake of these rulings, spending by independent groups like super PACs, non-profits and trade associations shot through the roof. Spending by independent groups, through the end of August, has exploded from $100 million in 2008 to nearly $300 million in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Secret money has also increased dramatically. A Huffington Post report at the end of July found that $172 million had already been spent in the 2012 election by groups that do not disclose donors. In the 2010 election, spending by groups not disclosing donors accounted for 43 percent of all reported spending, up from 25 percent in 2008 and just 1 percent in 2006.
The president's statement about a potential constitutional amendment was part of a larger answer to a question about the role money plays in American politics: "What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?" Reddit user Suzmerk asked. His full answer, in which he endorses both a constitutional amendment and the Disclose Act, is as follows:
Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress - to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.