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The Future of American Democracy

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This is not a progressive issue or a conservative issue. This is not a Tea Party issue or a liberal issue. This is an American issue. Money is destroying our politics and our political system. The signs are everywhere. A "super PAC" supporting Mitt Romney spent $3.5 million to knock Newt Gingrich out of the lead in Iowa. A super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich is spending a greater amount of money to return the favor to Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Our electoral system has become such a joke that two late-night comedians are now actually participating in it and are generating great laughter just by demonstrating how it operates.

In the past, Congress has made two bipartisan efforts to control the impact of money on our elections, first in the early 1970s and more recently with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as "McCain-Feingold." Both of these laws tried to restrict the influence of money on our elections. But after each of these efforts, the Supreme Court kicked down the door and allowed campaign money to flow more freely.

First, in Buckley v. Valeo, the Court held that money is the equivalent of "free speech" under the First Amendment, and that no act of Congress could restrict the amount of money that an individual could contribute to his or her own campaign or expend in support of another person's campaign as long as that expenditure was "independent" of the campaign. This decision gave the "one percent" a voice in our elections that greatly exceeds the concept of "one citizen-one vote."

Then, exactly two years ago today in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court went off the deep end and ruled that corporations are "persons" under the First Amendment and that no act of Congress could restrict the amount of money a corporation could spend in an election. This decision gives all U.S. corporations, and all U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations, every right to participate in our elections that individual U.S. citizens have, excepting only the right to actually vote.

The concept of giving corporations the same rights as individuals would have staggered our "founding fathers." Corporations in their present form did not even exist in 1789 when the Bill of Rights was ratified. The Bill of Rights was written to protect individuals from the power of the federal government. It was later extended by the Fourteenth Amendment to protect individuals from similar abuses by state governments. Where in this "original intent" was there any expression that corporations should have the same rights as individuals to participate in our electoral process?

We must get money out of our politics and out of our electoral system. We must eliminate the influence of multi-national corporations and foreign corporations on the government of our country. Since the Supreme Court majority is obviously opposed to such reforms, the only way to correct our system is through a constitutional amendment that will take money out of our electoral system.

This week, a constitutional amendment was introduced in Congress that will require all federal campaigns -- that is campaigns for president, vice president, senator and representative -- to be financed exclusively with public funds, and that will prohibit any expenditures from any other source, including the candidate. This amendment will also preclude any expenditures in support of, or in opposition to, any federal candidate, so that special interest groups will not be able to influence elections either. This amendment does, however, maintain our historical "freedom of the press" and preserve the traditional role that the media have played in our electoral process.

It is clear. Money has become a corrupting influence in the political system. This is one of the most important issues of our time. We must rescue American democracy. Together, we are committed to protecting the future of our democracy and that is why we have come together to promote this constitutional amendment. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent, we urge you to join us.