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Sen. Harkin supports amending Constitution to address Citizens United

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U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin is under no illusions that there will be an easy path forward for a joint resolution aimed at curtailing the amount of money being used to influence voters, but he also isn’t willing to wait on a better political climate.

“The U.S. Supreme Court said that money had a constitutional right to speech,” Harkin said by phone Thursday, referencing the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case decided in January 2010. “They equated money with speech [and said] that you couldn’t limit the amount of money that a corporation or any individual could give in a campaign. Now, the Supreme Court said we could limit, through campaign finance laws, how much a candidate can raise, but that we could not limit a corporation or a person on how much that corporation or that person wanted to spend of their own money to influence an election.

“This bill that we are pushing would amend the Constitution to basically say that money is not speech.”

In a Congress that has been loathe to pass meaningful legislation, the idea that any joint resolution to amend the Constitution could gain enough bipartisan traction to reach the two-thirds majority it needs in both chambers is, to be blunt, laughable — something Harkin and the bill’s other 14 supporters openly recognize.

When asked by The Iowa Independent if the bill stood any chance at all, Harkin was quick to answer: “No, not now.”

“I think as we go into the campaign next year, and as people see more and more of these distorted ads, which the candidates have no control over — you are going to see all of these devastating ads on candidates and where they stand and all of that, paid for by some bogus group. And the Supreme Court has given them a shield so that they don’t even have to say where [the money] comes from,” he said.

“I think the Supreme Court was wrong, but they’ve raised this to a constitutional position. So the only way to address this is to amend the Constitution; to say that money is not speech.”

What has resulted, Harkin said, is “an abundance of money in political campaigns” and a situation that isn’t in the best interest of the American people.

Marybeth Gardam, Iowa organizer for a grassroots movement known as Move to Amend, agrees with Harkin’s sentiments and shares his frustration with a political process that’s being overrun by money. She and her organization do not, however, agree that this proposal to amend the Constitution goes far enough or that it is traveling through sustainable channels.

“Move to Amend, in general, feels that this is counter-productive because it will be shot down, and also because it’s like asking for a slice of the pie when you need the whole thing,” said Gardam, who is also on the national leadership team for Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and serves on their Corporations Versus Democracy Committee.

Passage of a constitutional amendment, which requires not only a two-thirds vote of each chamber of Congress, but ratification by three-quarters of U.S. states, will be a great deal of work, she said, which mandates a need for massive grassroots understanding and support.

“So this just seems like a lot of work for something that only going to get you half the way there — not even half really,” she said.

Move to Amend’s position is that while reversing Citizens United is an important step, the country isn’t going to get to where it need to be until corporate personhood is abolished and all the constitutional rights that were intended for persons are removed from corporations.

“This [proposal] addresses the ‘money is not speech’ piece of it, but it does not address the ‘corporation is not a person’ piece of it. And as long as they have that right — which they got very illegitimately in the 1880s — they will be able to use that power against ‘we the people,’” Gardam said.

“There is quite an uneven playing field and, until we fix corporate personhood, the game will stay rigged.”

Here’s the full text of the proposed joint resolution:

Senate Joint Resolution 29Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years after the date of its submission by the Congress:

`Article–

`Section 1. Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on–

`(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office; and

`(2) the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

`Section 2. A State shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to State elections, including through setting limits on–

`(1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, State office; and

`(2) the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.

`Section 3. Congress shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.’.

There is also a video of the press conference organized by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat and author of the proposal, and attended by supporting Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Sheldon Whitehouse, Dick Durbin and Jeff Merkley in introducing the joint resolution.

Gardam says Move to Amend is hoping to allow time for community organizing at a grassroots level to raise the voices of individuals throughout the country, which will ultimately provide the language that will be used in a future constitutional amendment.

“What we are trying to accomplish is a really broad outreach and education program to get citizens aware of what’s going on, to get them to understand the difference between an initiative like the one that Senator Harkin sign onto and one that actually has a chance of curtailing the unchecked powers of national and trans-national corporations,” she said. “Through this process we will be building the type of awareness and demand from below, which we believe will be the only thing that will truly work.”

One of those educational opportunities will be taking place Friday evening in Cedar Rapids when Iowa Move to Amend shows the video embedded below to members of the Occupy Cedar Rapids movement. (More details available on our political calendar, available through Factbook or on our Facebook page)

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