The First Amendment is under attack once again, as the Senate is scheduled to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the amount of money spent during election cycles.
The Senate has yet to schedule a vote, although one is expected this year. At issue is the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting corporate and labor union spending on independent ads. The court ruled that freedom of speech includes spending money. Republicans general supported the ruling while Democrats – who are backing the amendment – mostly opposed it.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the amendment, which essentially would overturn the Citizens United ruling.
“The goal here is to stir up one party’s political base so they’ll show up in November, and it’s to do it by complaining loudly about certain Americans exercising their free speech and associational rights, while being perfectly happy that other Americans — those who agree with the sponsors of this amendment — are doing the same thing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said, according to The Huffington Post.
He called it a proposal “to weaken the First Amendment.”
Georgia Democratic Representative Hank Johnson raised eyebrows last fall when he backed such an amendment with language some viewed as over the top.
“These corporations, along with the people they support, other millionaires who they’re putting into office, are stealing your government. They’re stealing the government and the U.S. Supreme Court was a big enabler with the Citizens United case,” Johnson said.
“They control the patterns of thinking,” said Johnson. “They control the media. They control the messages that you get. So, you are being taught to hate your government — don’t want government, but keep your hands off of my Medicare by the way. I mean, we are all confused people and we’re poking fingers at each other saying, well you’re black, you’re Hispanic, immigration, homosexuals. You know, we’re lost on the social issues, abortion, contraception.
“And these folks,” Johnson said, “are setting up a scenario where they’re privatizing every aspect of our lives as we know it. So, wake up! Wake up! Let’s look at what’s happening. We need a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to control the so-called free speech rights of corporations.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat) criticized McConnell for now opposing an amendment after backing one during the 1980s.
“Although he opposed billionaires using their own money to run for office, Senator McConnell now supports billionaires’ ability to fund today’s campaigns and independent expenditures,” Reid said. “In fact, Senator McConnell even declares that, ‘In our society, spending is speech.’ How could everyday working American families afford to make their voices heard if money equals free speech?”
For his part, McConnell pointed to Democrats who previously opposed the amendment – former Senator Russ Feingold and the late Ted Kennedy.
“Our colleagues who voted against those proposals were right then,” McConnell said. “And I respectfully submit that they would be wrong now to support the latest proposal to weaken the First Amendment,” McConnell said.
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