Senate Dems seek to rewrite First Amendment
The Democrat's attack on political speech will come to a point this week when the Senate votes on a measure that would overturn the Citizens United decision and give federal authorities the power to regulate all manner of political speech including books and pamphlets.
Forty-six Senate Democrats have concluded that the First Amendment is an impediment to re-election that a little tinkering can cure. They are proposing a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and state legislatures the authority to regulate the degree to which citizens can devote their resources to advocating the election or defeat of candidates. Voters, whatever their political views, should rise up against politicians who want to dilute the Bill of Rights to perpetuate their tenure in office.
ed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, these Senate Democrats claim that they are merely interested in good government to "restore democracy to the American people" by reducing the amount of money in politics. Do not believe it. When politicians seek to restrict political speech, it is invariably to protect their own incumbency and avoid having to defend their policies in the marketplace of ideas.
This scheme is doomed to fail when it comes to a vote in the Senate, perhaps as soon as Monday. The Constitution's Framers had the wisdom to make amending the Constitution difficult, and Mr. Reid's gambit won't survive a filibuster. But Senate Democrats know their proposal is a loser. They merely want another excuse to rail against "money in politics" and Supreme Court justices they don't like.
The rhetoric of these would-be constitutional reformers is focused on two Supreme Court decisions: Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and McCutcheon v. FEC (2014). In Citizens United, the court struck down a law prohibiting unions and corporations from using their resources to speak for or against a candidate within a certain time period before an election.
The Obama administration conceded during oral argument that the law would permit the government to ban the publication of political books or pamphlets. Pamphlets and books ignited the revolution that created this country and the Bill of Rights. In pushing to overturn the court's decision, Mr. Reid and his Democratic colleagues apparently wish they had the power to stop books, pamphlets—as well as broadcasting—that threaten their hold on their government jobs.
The author of the Journal article, Ted Olsen, argued the Citizens United case before the Supreme Court so he knows a bit about the arguments that Harry Reid conveniently forgets, or cynically exaggerates.
Incidentally, President Obama's complaint in his 2010 State of the Union address that Citizens United "reversed a century of law" was false. The court preserved the architecture of the campaign-finance laws but overturned an anomalous 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (and its progeny) that would have permitted statutory limits on corporate speech to help level, or equalize, the playing field in election campaigns. Even the Obama administration was unwilling to defend Austin's rationale in briefs to the court, presumably because it would warrant all manner of government thumbs on the scale regarding election rhetoric, possibly even imposing handicaps to balance the advantage of incumbency.
It is also a canard that Citizens United permits organizations, as Mr. Reid claimed in May, to "dump unseemly amounts of money into a shadowy political organization." The court explicitly left untouched the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties. Citizens United also upheld disclosure requirements, the very opposite of shadowy.
This kind of insidious chipping away at the First Amendment is what most campaign finance "reform" is all about. Congress just doesn't get it. For almost 100 years, the Supreme Court has continuously ruled that money is speech and that putting restrictions on donating to candidates is stifling free expression.
Now all of a sudden, because candidates are able to level the playing field against incumbents, corporate money in politics is evil and must be heavily regulated - including the speech that money buys. Not surprisingly, most union donations would not be affected by the new law, given that most union outside funding of Democratic campaigns is considered "educational" and not political. This makes it an easy vote for Democrats who realize the enormous advantage their candidates would have come election time.
The measure will be filibustered, but it won't disappear. Harry Reid will continue to attempt an end run around the First Amendment until he's no longer majority leader. Let's hope that happens sooner rather than later.