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Senate Will Vote On Constitutional Amendment To Roll Back Campaign Finance Decisions

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate will vote in 2014 on a constitutional amendment to reverse Supreme Court rulings that prevent limitations on campaign spending, campaign contributions and independent group spending.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced the planned vote at a hearing on undisclosed "dark money" held by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Wednesday. Schumer said the Senate will vote on a constitutional amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

The amendment would roll back the 2010 Citizens United and 2014 McCutcheon rulings by re-instituting the power of Congress to pass legislation limiting campaign contributions and expenditures. In particular, this change would reverse a part of the court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that upheld the original Federal Election Campaign Act's limits on campaign contributions, but struck down the act's limits on campaign spending.

"We have to bring some balance to our political system," Schumer said.

The Buckley ruling restricting Congress' ability to limit campaign spending did so by finding that limits on spending are a direct curtailment of First Amendment rights. The court then ruled that the expenditure of money from oneself or donated by another constituted a form of speech. This has famously been interpreted as a ruling that "money is speech."

Schumer countered the view that the First Amendment cannot be amended because it is sacrosanct.

"I respect my colleagues' fidelity to the First Amendment, but no amendment is absolute," Schumer said. "Some support limitations on pornography. That's a limitation on the First Amendment. Some support legislation saying you can't yell fire in a movie theater. That's a limitation on the First Amendment."

Udall said during the committee hearing that the distortion of the political system by big money predates both Citizens United and McCutcheon. He pointed to the long bipartisan tradition of support for a constitutional amendment to change the Buckley decision.

Ever since the 1976 Buckley ruling, Congress has discussed and senators have introduced constitutional amendments to roll back the restrictions on campaign finance limits. The issue has been championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, including former Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.).

"Elections have become more about the quantity of cash and less about the quality of ideas," Udall said.

Udall's amendment has the endorsement of 35 co-sponsors, including the independent Sen. Angus King (Maine).

CLARIFICATION: Language has been added to make clear that the proposed constitutional amendment would restore congressional power to restrict campaign contributions as well as expenditures.

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