WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday called for amending the U.S. Constitution to bar big money donors from having an outsized impact on the nation's elections, saying billionaire donors were mounting a "hostile takeover" of America.
"Amending our Constitution is not something any of us should take lightly, but the flood of special interest money in our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced," Reid said on the Senate floor. "Let's keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy."
The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), would reverse the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United and 2014 McCutcheon rulings, as well as part of its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, and restore certain congressional authority to regulate the raising and spending of money, including that of super PACs.
The dramatic escalation of spending by independent political advocacy groups -- especially the network of outfits sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers -- was the last straw for Reid, who has been railing against the Kansas oil magnates all year.
He cited them specifically in announcing his support for changing the constitution, noting they wrote in a memo they plan to spend at least $125 million on elections this year through their group Americans for Prosperity.
"This memo was sent to a select group, the ultra-rich, mega rich," said Reid. "The memo was entitled, quote, 'Confidential investor update,' close quote. How fitting ... The Koch brothers' hostile takeover of the American electoral system, to call something an investor update. You see, these billionaires are dumping unseemly amounts of money into a shadowy political organization. Their donation is an investment in an America rigged to benefit themselves at the expense of the middle class."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Reid's No. 3, first revealed in April that Democrats were planning to vote on the constitutional amendment.
"The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have the more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong," Reid said Thursday.
"Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees," he added. "The Constitution does not give corporations a vote, and the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote."
Reid previewed his move on Wednesday, saying one of the high court's retired justices inspired his support.
“[Former Supreme Court] Justice Stevens gave me the nudge that I needed and that is, ‘Let’s try and pass a constitutional amendment,'" he said in a BuzzFeed interview.
“It was as if I had jumped into the sewer," he said, explaining how he felt after the Citizens United ruling. "It’s awful what has happened."
Democrats are unlikely to garner the support of a Senate supermajority, or two-thirds of senators, which is what they would need to pass such a measure. But repeated votes on the matter may make for suitable messaging ahead of the November midterm elections.
UPDATE: 12:10 p.m. -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted Reid for mounting what he characterized as an "all-out assault" on the First Amendment:
Proposing to take away this fundamental right from the American people and vest it in the federal government instead is the ultimate act of radicalism, and it should concern all Americans who care about their right to speak their minds and to participate freely in the political process. Washington Democrats have shown again and again how determined they are to shut down the voices of anyone who disagrees with them, whether it’s targeting groups through the IRS or looking over the shoulders of reporters at local newspapers and on news radio. But this latest proposal goes beyond everything they’ve attempted previously. No politician from either party is above the Constitution, and this crass attempt by Democrats to shut down any opposition to their plans should be rejected swiftly and decisively by everyone in this country who prizes the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.