In an opinion piece, “Plan B on Citizens United?” published in The Washington Post, Ruth Marcus addressed President Obama’s comments during the Republican convention about the possibility of amending the Constitution to overturn “the most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court I think in the 21st century” as Senator McCain refers to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case.
In a question and answer session on the web site Reddit, President Obama was asked what he thought should be done about the excess of money in campaign donations. He replied, “Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds-barred flow of seven- and eight-figure checks, most undisclosed, into super PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.” He argued in favor of the Disclose Act, and Marcus rightly pointed out that “would be a crucial step toward transparency but would do nothing to address the larger concern of mega-donations: We would at least know where the cash came from, but it could still be written in seven- and eight-figure amounts.”
Obama continued: “Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturnCitizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it),” he typed. “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight on the super PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.” Then Marcus expressed her concern:
As a philosophical matter, I don’t like the notion of tinkering with the Constitution; the fundamental problem is not the First Amendment but an interpretation of it that frustrates any effective rules on campaign spending. As a practical matter, I worry that starting down the long road to a constitutional amendment would detract attention from more achievable options, such as the Disclose Act.
We should not push to amend the Constitution because people will get distracted from other legislative mechanisms to expose and turn away from a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy?!? Seriously? Who’s attention would be distracted from other legislative matters? Citizens? Legislators? This has got to be the most lame and pathetic excuse to not go “down the long road to a constitutional amendment” offered so far by anyone.
Clearly, we need the Disclose Act; but as Ms. Marcus points out, that would not change the status quo of campaign contributions “written in seven- and eight-figure amounts.” We need campaign finance reform; but, until the bogus equivalence between money and speech is overturned, the Court will be free to continue to undermine Congressional attempts to make American elections more fair on 1st Amendment grounds.
We have news for Ms. Marcus: there is a movement afoot going down that road whether the President, any president, supports the idea or not. Someone writing in a prestigious paper such as WaPo ought to have a better grasp of the issue addressed. That should start by understanding what the actual “fundamental problem is.” The cruxes of the Citizens United decision were corporate personhood (corporations having been granted constitutional rights), the inequitable equivalency of money and speech and the fact that the SCOTUS does not have the constitutional power to alter Congress’ regulations on the manner of elections (Art. 1, Section 4 of Constitution) but does so anyway. You would think someone writing for WaPo would understand this, but you would be wrong.