Today, Congressman John Yarmuth (Ky-03) will introduce a Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics by overturning a key provision of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for special-interest influence on elections and in Washington.
The amendment, which Yarmuth will introduce alongside Republican Congressman Walter Jones (NC-03), establishes that financial expenditures and in-kind contributions do not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment. It also enables Congress to establish a public financing system that would serve as the sole source of funding for federal elections.
"Corporate money equals influence, not free speech," Yarmuth said. "The last thing Congress needs is more corporate candidates who don't answer to the American people. Until we get big money out of politics, we will never be able to responsibly address the major issues facing American families -- and that starts by ensuring our elections and elected officials cannot be bought by the well-off and well-connected."
"If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed," Jones said. "The status quo is dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, and that's simply unacceptable to the American people."
In a 5-4 decision in January 2010, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of federal election law, allowing corporations to spend general treasury funds for communications that advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate. In its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Court determined that a ban on these expenditures violates the First Amendment -- reversing nearly 100 years of established legal precedent.
By establishing that money does not equal protected speech, the Yarmuth-Jones Amendment allows Congress to regulate campaign finance without a constitutional challenge under Citizens United.
The effect of unrestricted corporate spending in elections has been dramatic. Outside groups spent four times more money (a 427 percent increase) on midterm elections in 2010 than in 2006. And because there are no new disclosure requirements on corporate "persons," much of the money has been spent outside the view of the American public.
The DISCLOSE Act, which Yarmuth cosponsored, would have installed disclosure requirements for new corporate spenders. But Senate Republicans used a filibuster to defeat it last year.
Yarmuth is a longtime supporter of campaign finance reform. He is a cosponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act to establish a public financing system for federal elections. He is also a cosponsor of the Shareholder Protection Act, which directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue rules that require corporations to disclose political contributions to their shareholders.
Last year, Yarmuth introduced a resolution calling on Congress to mitigate the effects of Citizens United. He also joined an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Arizona's public financing system for elections.