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Public Statements

Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. Mr. President, I was just listening to the Senator who is now in the Chair, and I want to congratulate him on filing that amicus brief with Senator McCain in the Supreme Court. I believe the Supreme Court should heed the good advice both Senator McCain and Senator Whitehouse have given them, and I think if they do not heed that advice, the authority they have undertaken themselves will be taken away from them by the people who are urging a constitutional amendment to give this back to the Congress and back to the State legislatures.

I join my colleagues today to highlight what I consider a significant problem in our country--the unprecedented flow of money into our democratic elections.

Over the past several months, a group of us have been working together to address this problem. We have asked the FEC, IRS, and the FCC to take actions that would help curb the impact of money on our elections.

Led by Senator Whitehouse, we have introduced the DISCLOSE Act. This bill would shine a light into the dark corners of the campaign finance system. Senator Bennet and I have introduced a constitutional amendment, which currently has 22 cosponsors, to overturn the disastrous judicial opinions that have led to the broken system we have today.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Citizens United v. FEC. Two months later, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals decided the SpeechNow v. FEC case. These two cases gave rise to the super PACs.

Millions of dollars now pour into negative and misleading campaign ads, and often without disclosing the true source of the donations. But our campaign finance system was hardly a model of democracy before these disastrous opinions. The Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions renewed our concerns about campaign finance, but the Court laid the groundwork many years ago.

We can go all the way back to 1976. That year, the Court held in Buckley v. Valeo that restricting independent campaign expenditures violates the first amendment right to free speech; in effect, that money and speech are the same thing.

The damage is clear. Elections become more about the quantity of the cash and less about the quality of ideas; more about the special interests and less about public service.

We cannot truly fix this broken system until we undo the flawed premise that spending money on elections is the same thing as exercising free speech. That only can be achieved in two ways: The Court could overturn Buckley and subsequent decisions based on it, something the current Court seems highly unlikely to do, or we amend the Constitution to not only overturn the previous bad Court decisions but also to prevent future ones. Until then, we will fall short of the real reform that is needed.

In Federalist No. 49, James Madison argued that the U.S. Constitution should be amended only on ``great and extraordinary occasions.'' I believe we have reached one of those occasions. In today's political campaigns, our free and fair elections--a founding principle of our great democracy--are for sale to the highest bidder.

I know amending the Constitution is difficult. And it should be. But we didn't start this effort last year or even in the last Congress. Others before us have urged that this longstanding problem needs a long-term solution. Many of our predecessors understood the corrosive effect money has on our political system. They spent years championing the cause.

Senator Fritz Hollings introduced bipartisan constitutional amendments similar to our amendment in every Congress from the 99th Congress to the 108th Congress. Senators Schumer and Cochran introduced one in the 109th Congress. And those were all before the Citizens United decision--before things went from bad to worse. The out-of-control spending since that decision has further poisoned our elections, but it has also ignited a broad movement to amend the Constitution.

I participated in a panel discussion in January with several activists in this movement. One of the panelists, Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, was asked about overcoming the difficulty of amending the Constitution. Jamie said that:

A constitutional amendment always seems impossible until it becomes inevitable.

I think we are finally reaching the point of inevitability.

Across the country, more than 200 local resolutions have passed calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Legislators in four States--Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, and my home State of New Mexico--have called on Congress to send an amendment to the States for ratification. Many more States have similar resolutions pending. Over 1 million citizens have signed petitions in support of an amendment, and more than 100 organizations under the banner of United for the People are advocating for constitutional remedies.

This grassroots movement is yielding progress. In addition to our amendment, several other campaign finance-related amendments have been introduced in the House and the Senate. Senators Leahy and Durbin recently announced that Senator Durbin's Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution will hold a hearing on the Senate proposals in July. I thank them for their support. The hearing will be a great opportunity to examine the different approaches, to solicit input from constitutional experts, and to have a national discussion about the need to return our elections to the American people.

I hope this dialogue will convince some of my Republican colleagues to join me. Fixing our campaign finance system is only a partisan issue in Washington. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that nearly 70 percent of registered voters want super PACs to be illegal. Among independent voters, that figure rose to 78 percent. But the Court, in its misguided reading of the first amendment, told the Congress that we can't rein in super PACs. In doing so, it gave millionaires and billionaires unchecked power to influence our elections. It has allowed a flood of PAC money to drown out the voices of average Americans. This is a fatal misreading of the real world of political campaigns, and it is wrong. Supporters of super PACs and unlimited campaign spending claim they are promoting the democratic process. But the public knows better. Wealthy individuals and special interests are buying our elections. Citizens United has meant citizens denied. Our Nation cannot afford a system that says ``come on in'' to the rich and powerful, and says ``don't bother'' to everyone else.

The faith of the American people and their electoral system is shaken by big money. It is time to restore that faith. It is time for Congress to take back control.

I know the Senator from Rhode Island, as Senator Whitehouse, has worked very hard on this issue, and has pulled us together. I believe we are going to have others join us in this hour. The crucial thing we are trying to say is we need reform, we need disclosure. We need to get to the bottom of what is happening in this broken system and get our democracy back for the American people.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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