This picture tells us all we need to know about why the movement to amend the Constitution to abolish corporate constitutional rights and money as speech is still in its infancy. Of the 12 organizations (Free Speech for People is a project of Common Cause) that gathered and presented signatures to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, not one represents the concerns of conservative voters, or could even be thought of as moderate, centrist or bi-partisan.
This week’s Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Udall amendment proposal to empower Congress to enact campaign finance reforms illustrated this issue in stark terms. While Democrats lamented the corrupting influence of wealthy Republican activists without mentioning a single Democratic donor, Republicans breathlessly feigned concern for what they framed as the wholesale dismantling of the First Amendment. The two short clips below give a sense of how the entire hearing went.
The Democrats pick on the conservative bogeyman of the moment and the Republicans use it to play into their victimization defense. Both parties have made it clear that they perceive this amendment process as nothing more than an opportunity to score political points to rally their respective bases. That will continue to be the case as long as this amendment movement is dominated by liberal organizations, especially ones historically tied to the Democratic party.
The corporate elite need this movement to be defined as a partisan issue and they’ll stop at nothing to ensure their political beneficiaries do everything possible to make that case. Corporate-backed, Tea Party In Name Only Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) laid the corporate talking points out in one of his customary primal screams.
There are very good reasons for conservatives to support a good amendment (which the Udall proposal is not) but that message won’t be taken seriously coming from lefty groups like Public Citizen, MoveOn and WolfPAC, no matter how good their intentions may be. Even if the Democrats were to magically take 60 seats in the Senate and a majority in the House (a very unlikely prospect in any foreseeable circumstance), we’ll still need some Republicans in both chambers to pass an amendment by the constitutionally required super majority. Then we need to win ratification by legislative majorities in 38 states, which, by definition, means winning in more than a dozen states that are currently dominated by the GOP. And thanks to redistricting, those states will probably stay under GOP control for many years, if not decades, to come.
It is premature to try to pass an amendment proposal in Congress and submit it to the states. Anyone who can do math knows that. There’s nothing wrong with trying to raise awareness of the issues at stake but a Senate hearing on an amendment proposal that everyone knows, as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mentioned in his testimony, has zero chance of passage in either chamber of Congress, is not only a poor way to do it, it actually has a good chance of doing more harm than good. Any politician who truly believes an amendment is necessary should be raising awareness by making it a campaign issue and forcing opponents to either explain why they’re against a level playing field or adopt a pro-amendment position.
While there were some very good points made by the panelists, a Senate hearing on hopeless legislation is a cheap trick and little more than a way to rally the base. Putting campaign dollars on the line forces the conversation out of the beltway and into the living rooms of average Americans. We will know who is serious when we see hard-hitting ads on this issue in the next several election cycles. Any politician who talks big in a hearing but refuses to make it a campaign issue is just paying lip service or worse, attempting to co-opt the amendment movement to serve partisan goals. The American people deserve better.
You can view the entire hearing at C-Span.org.