Campaign Finance Reform and a Democracy for All

Citizens United and Related Cases

Congressman Ted Deutch was sworn-in to the House of Representatives just three months after the Supreme Court issued its highly-controversial, split decision in Citizens United v. FEC in January 2010. Since then, Ted has made restoring for the American people what the Supreme Court took away – namely their right to regulate money in politics – one of his key focuses in Congress. He has worked with several think tanks and prominent organizations focused on restoring accountability to our campaign finance laws, including Public Citizen, People for the American Way, the Communications Workers for America, Free Speech for People, and Common Cause.

The highly controversial Citizens United decision held that corporations, unions, and other private entities have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money swaying elections in their favor. Yet Citizens United was far from the first, and unfortunately not the last, major court decision to threaten integrity of our elections.

The Supreme Court’s 1974 decision in Buckley v. Valeo delivered the first major blow to democratically-enacted campaign finance rules when it struck down limits on independent election expenditures. In 2010, shortly after Citizens United eliminated restrictions on the use of corporate treasury funds in elections, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals followed suit with a decision in SpeechNow.Org v. FEC that held wealthy individuals also have a right to spend unlimited money in elections. In 2011, the Supreme Court delivered another blow to the entire premise of public financing laws in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC vs. Bennett, which overturned state statutes that seek to level the playing field for candidates outspent by independently wealthy opponents or closely-aligned Super PACs.

Despite record spending by Super PACs and other special interest groups during the 2012 election cycle, in 2014 the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC handed even more influence over our elections to America’s wealthiest donors. That decision struck down the $123,000 total cap on how much money a single person could donate to federal candidates per cycle, granting America’s wealthiest donors permission to donate up to $5.9 million every cycle to candidates running for federal office. In his opinion for the 5-4 majority for McCutcheon, Chief Justice John Roberts went so far as to argue that the First Amendment right of millionaires and billionaires to influence elections far outweighed any interest the American people have in ensuring elected representatives are accountable to voters.

Crafting a Constitutional Amendment

Ted first gained national attention for his efforts to reduce the influence of big money in politics when he introduced the Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Amendment in the House, and later gained the sponsorship of Senator Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Senate. While Ted may not have been the first member to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, he took extra care to craft his amendment to address both of the ruling’s most dangerous assertions: that corporations are people with rights enshrined in the Constitution and that the First Amendment guarantees a right to unlimited spending in our elections.

Yet once it became clear that his colleagues held differing levels of support for an amendment that addressed corporate personhood and campaign finance at the same, Ted shifted his focus in the 113th and 114th Congresses towards building consensus and uniting as many Members of Congress as possible behind a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. 

Those efforts led to Ted’s introduction of the Democracy for All Amendment with Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Congressman Jim McGovern in July 2014. The proposed amendment gives the American people a constitutional right to limit the influence of money in our elections – by individuals and private entities alike. In the Senate, the work of Senators Tom Udall and Bernie Sanders to advance the companion amendment eventually culminated in more than fifty members of the U.S. Senate voting in favor of a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. Though it fell short of the two-thirds support it needed to move forward, the vote gave historic momentum to a movement taking root across the country. 

The Democracy for All Amendment

Marking the five-year anniversary Citizens United on January 20th, 2015, Ted reintroduced the Democracy for All Amendment into the 114th Congress. Filed as H.J. Res 22 in the House and S.J.Res 5 in the Senate, the Udall-Deutch Amendment: 

  • Restores the ability of the local, state, and federal elected representatives of the people to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections, thus overturning several damaging Supreme Court decisions, including Citizens United v. FECMcCutcheon v. FEC, and Buckley v. Valeo. 

  • Reaffirms that Congress and the State can pass laws regulating money in elections and set reasonable limits on spending by both individuals and artificial entities like corporations, unions, and not-for-profit groups as defined by the tax code.

  • Protects the freedom of the press that is so vital to a functional democracy.

Learn more about the Democracy for All Amendment.

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