The U.S. Senate will soon vote on a proposed constitutional amendment backed by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire that would give Congress the power to regulate campaign finances in the wake of Supreme Court decisions that equated corporate campaign spending with free speech.
Senate Majority Harry Reid said Thursday on the Senate floor that the proposed amendment would come up for a vote soon and, shortly later, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said the matter will be reviewed June 3 by the full committee.
Shaheen, D-N.H., is one of several Democratic cosponsors of the bill, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico.
The amendment proposal is in reaction to two Supreme Court rulings that made it easier to contribute third-party money in elections — the Citizens United ruling in 2010, which struck down restrictions on independent political spending by corporations and unions; and the McCutcheon ruling on April 2, which abolished limits on individual political donations.
Supporters hailed the rulings as support of free speech, while detractors bemoaned them as allowing the corrupting influence of money to buy elections.
“With recent Supreme Court decisions striking down common sense limits on campaign spending and contributions, Senator Shaheen believes the American people should have the opportunity to decide whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for reasonable campaign finance regulations,” said Elizabeth Kenigsberg, Shaheen’s press secretary.
“Make no mistake, the goal of this amendment is to restrict Americans’ right to free speech,” said Greg Moore, state director of Americans For Prosperity New Hampshire. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that people have the right to engage in speaking freely to the public and that the government should not have the right to muzzle that speech. Clearly, there are a number of special interests who want to put a gag order on political speech in order to magnify their power, and that’s just what this amendment would allow.”
“Harry Reid and Washington politicians shouldn’t mess with the First Amendment of our Constitution and jeopardize all Americans’ freedom of speech rights guaranteed by our nation’s Founding Fathers,” said Liz Johnson, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
An amendment to the Constitution must be passed by a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House and ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Some states have begun their own actions, including New Hampshire, where the House on Thursday passed SB307, which would establish a committee to review constitutional amendments regarding the Supreme Court decisions.
Udall’s proposal faces an uphill climb, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already voiced opposition, according to a statement posted on his website.
“Today’s proposal by the Senate Majority Leader represents an all-out assault on the right to free speech, a right which undergirds all others in our democracy,” McConnell said in his statement.