It’s been almost a decade since the U.S. Supreme Court made its controversial, 5-4 “Citizens United” decision, which says the government can’t legally restrict political spending by corporations and unions. And it’s been nearly that long since U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has been pushing for a constitutional amendment that would in effect overturn that ruling.
But while his efforts in that area have been thwarted by Republicans in the Senate — and even though Udall is not seeking another Senate term next year — New Mexico’s senior senator still is leading the charge against Citizens United, which opened the floodgates for “dark money” — political contributions in which the source is allowed to remain hidden — and advanced the notion that campaign money is tantamount to “free speech” for corporations.
On Tuesday, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and other Senate Democrats, Udall plans a press conference to tout his latest proposed constitutional amendment, the “Democracy for All Amendment,” which he says would “help get big money out of politics, and put power back in the hands of the American people.”
Udall said in a statement Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “proudly proclaims that he is presiding over a legislative graveyard — where urgently-needed legislation, like the Democracy for All amendment, goes to die. But we are fighting back, and taking this directly to the American people. The American people are fed up with a campaign finance system run totally amok — where your net worth determines your ability to make your voice heard in our democracy.”
That’s consistent with what he said at a 2011 news conference about a previous amendment aimed at Citizens United. “Campaigns should be about the best ideas, not the biggest checkbooks,” Udall said eight years ago. “It’s time to put elections back in the hands of American voters, not corporations and special interests.”
Paul Gessing of the conservative Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Foundation, however, said he believes Citizens United was a good decision. He said free speech should not denied to corporations, “who are groups of individuals.”
Said Gessing, “I can’t see limiting anyone’s right to engage in political campaigns.”
A nationwide poll of nearly 5,800 registered voters by the University of Maryland School of Public Policy’s Program for Public Consultation, published in May 2018, found that 88 percent favor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Seventy-two percent of Democrats said the issue was “very important,” as did 49 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents.
In an article about the University of Maryland poll last year, the Center for Public Integrity said, “Overturning Citizens United has been many liberals’ dream for years, although it’s highly unlikely to happen. The traditional route for amending the Constitution requires a vote of two-thirds of both the House and Senate, followed by ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures. The Constitution was last amended in 1992.” The article noted, “Of more than two dozen money in politics bills introduced early in the current congressional session, lawmakers have not conducted a single formal hearing or vote on any of them.”
Udall’s news conference, which will take place on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court 10 a.m. , will be live-streamed on Udall’s Facebook page.