Today, on the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending, U.S. Senators and Representatives came together in the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the reintroduction of legislation covering a host of solutions to the problem of big money domination of our elections. These reform measures (full list below) included small donor public financing, disclosure, a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, and stronger enforcement by federal agencies.
Additionally, two dozen reform groups issued a statement commending these members of Congress for moving forward on critical money in politics reform measures.
"Today, I’m proud to join lawmakers from both houses of Congress to reintroduce a package of comprehensive reforms to restore the integrity of our elections," said Sen. Tom Udall (New Mexico). "It’s past time to act to put elections back in the hands of the voters – and get them out of the hands of billionaires and special interests. I believe the best way to fix our broken system is to amend the Constitution to overturn bad decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon and prevent future ones. But we also must pass reforms that will shine a light on the dark outside money and empower small donors. New Mexicans want change. They want a government that works and gets things done. We have to keep up the fight."
“This amendment is about restoring confidence in our democracy and ending this unfettered spending by anonymous donors that overwhelms the rights of individual Americans to be heard,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (Colorado). “The Supreme Court’s misguided rulings in Citizens United and McCutcheon have led to out-of-control spending on ads that are overwhelming the airwaves. The source of this spending is concentrated in a very small group of people whose agenda has nothing to do with the concerns of Colorado families. As a result, the issues debated in Washington are far removed from the ones on the minds of Americans.”
“Citizens United enabled corporations and billionaires to secretly buy election influence,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island). “The DISCLOSE Act would require political groups backed by dark money donors to disclose where their money is coming from so voters know who is really behind those campaign ads. It’s a simple idea that many Republicans have supported in the past, and I’m hopeful that their new majority and new responsibility will lead them back to standing with the individual voters who elected them rather than the big special interests seeking to buy our democracy.”
“The flood of dark money into our elections is one of the biggest threats to our democracy,” said Sen. Jon Tester (Montana).“It empowers a wealthy few to drown out the voices of regular folks. We must bring sensible limitations and transparency to campaigns, so voters know who is trying to influence their vote.”
"Five years later, it’s clear that Citizens United has ushered in a new era of big money politics, given the wealthy and well-connected even greater control over the agenda in Washington and made everyday Americans more cynical about politics and government,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (Maryland). “That's why I’ve introduced H.R. 20, Government By the People Act – to make everyday Americans just as powerful as big-money campaign donors, and to return our government back to the people.”
"The damage done by Citizens United and related decisions will only be undone by a more favorable Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment," said Rep. David Price (North Carolina). "But I strongly believe that Congress must make progress on smaller reforms in the meantime. Today, I am introducing the Empowering Citizens Act with my good friend Chris Van Hollen. This important legislation would stem the growing influence of individual-candidate Super PACs -- which are dedicated to the election of a single candidate -- by restricting their affiliation with campaigns."
“Corporate executives should not be able to treat money invested by shareholders as their personal piggy bank for political campaign spending, especially without shareholders’ knowledge or consent,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (New Jersey). “As the destructive repercussions of the Citizens United decision continue to give corporations undue influence on elections, this legislation will provide long overdue accountability and transparency. The Shareholder Protection Act will ensure that a company’s executives have the informed consent of shareholders before they can spend shareholders’ money on politics.”
“The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has had profoundly negative effects for all parties in our election system, including shareholders. The Shareholder Protection Act is one way to address the impact of that decision on our elections. A corporation’s money belongs to its shareholders and they, not a handful of corporate executives, should be deciding how that money is spent,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (Massachusetts).
The “Defend Democracy” Legislative Package:
Democracy for All Amendment: Provides Congress and the states with the authority to determine reasonable regulations on campaign financing and distinguish between natural persons and other artificial entities under campaign finance laws. Key sponsors: Sens. Udall, Sanders, Tester/Reps. Deutch, Edwards, McGovern.
DISCLOSE Act: Establishes a system of disclosure of campaign spending and the sources of those funds for all entities that make independent expenditures (at any time) and electioneering communications (in calendar year of an election for Congress; 120 days before the primary for presidential elections). Key sponsors: Sen. Whitehouse/Rep. Van Hollen.
Empowering small donors and increasing political participation: Matching public funds for small dollar contributions, and various other provisions. “Government by the People Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Rep. Sarbanes. “Empowering Citizens Act” (congressional and presidential elections), key sponsor: Rep. Price. “Fair Elections Now Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Sen. Durbin.
Be inspired at our March 21st Annual Dinner honoring Congressman John Sarbanes
Prohibit campaign coordination: Clarifies the definition of “coordination” to include the close relationships and ties between a candidate and outside group or super PAC. Key sponsors: Rep. Price.
Real Time Transparency Act: Requires all political committees, including joint fundraising committees, to disclose electronically within 48 hours all cumulative contributions of $1,000 or more in a calendar year. Key sponsors: Sen. King/Rep. O’Rourke.
Sunlight for Unaccountable Nonprofits Act (SUN Act): Makes public the donors who give more than $5000 to tax-exempt groups that engage in election activities. Key sponsor: Sen. Tester.
Shareholder Protection Act: Requires corporations to disclose to shareholders and the public spending of funds for independent expenditures and electioneering communications, even if such spending is indirectly done through a third party. Key sponsors: Sen. Menendez/Rep. Capuano.