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Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I was very engaged by the comments Senator Whitehouse was making a short time ago. I was very struck, as I have been all along, by the substantial challenge posed by Citizens United. My colleague was speaking to the impact on our constitutional system. When I think about this, I often think about those first three words of our Constitution, ``we the people.'' Is it the Senator's sense that this phrase, ``we the people,'' that starts out the Constitution is more than simple window dressing? Does it go to the heart of who and what we are as a society, as a nation?


Mr. MERKLEY. So I think if any three words would summarize the heart of our Constitution, it would be those three words. It would be ``we the people.'' Yet we have a Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, that essentially unleashes a flood of special interest money. Is that fundamentally in conflict with the notion of ``we the people''?


Mr. MERKLEY. So Citizens United goes right against the very heart of our Constitution. How is it possible that the Supreme Court found, in this 5-to-4 decision, that this has no corrupting impact on our electoral process?


Mr. MERKLEY. So the Supreme Court envisioned this steel wall, this high, impenetrable wall between an independent campaign and the candidate's campaign, and thereby saw fit to unleash unlimited money on one side of the wall while saying the other side has campaign caps, and that made sense together but their fundamental premise was wrong?


Mr. MERKLEY. Most of our campaigns for the Senate involve millions of dollars--some are $2 million, some are $20 million, some more. There are super PACs that have that much money and can bring that much money to bear in a single race. Did the Supreme Court wrestle with the type of intimidation, that precensorship, the precensorship impact on this body when somebody thinks about what should I say? Do I want to offend someone who has, not just $1 million but millions and millions of dollars to bring to bear? Did they wrestle with the impact on corrupting the debate and dialog and decisionmaking of this body?


Mr. MERKLEY. I thank my colleague from Rhode Island very much for championing this bill and for what he has done helping folks to understand this issue.

I will make a few comments on this issue. My friend from Vermont is standing by and, I think, wants to make some remarks as well.

I wanted to have the key words we are talking about put up before us. This is a picture of the Constitution, or at least the top of the front page, if you will. I was always struck that our Founders saw fit to start this document that lays out the framework for our Nation, the framework for our system of government, with three simple words, ``we the people.'' They got to it right from the very beginning. They did not put in three paragraphs of polite this and that and then get to the heart of it. They started with the heart: ``We the people.'' They did not put it in small print, they put it in super-sized print. We can see it is written in a font that is probably 10 times the size of the rest of the Constitution. They deliberately said this is the premise on which our Nation will operate. This is the foundation on which we stand.

These words are not ``we the powerful.'' There is a huge distinction between ``we the people'' and ``we the powerful.'' But the Supreme Court, in Citizens United, attacked the very heart of our Constitution--by saying the most powerful companies with vast sums of money can flood our political system, can buy up the airwaves, and completely dominate the conversation.

Free speech wasn't about one side buying up the airwaves. Airwaves didn't exist then. It wasn't about one side buying up the airwaves. It was about all ideas being able to compete in the marketplace of ideas so citizens could hear the pros and cons and decide who they wished to elect and how they wished to vote based on their understanding of what would work best for ``we the people.''

The Supreme Court did not benefit from seeing the Republican primaries of this year in operation. They didn't see how a super PAC would sweep into a State, buy up the airwaves, dominate the conversation, and determine the outcome. No, they had some other vision. My colleague has referred to the fact that none of the members of the Supreme Court had the political experience to understand the impact of this flood of money.

You may be thinking to yourself: Well, how much money can we be talking about? Well, money beyond an amount that a working man or woman could ever envision. If it were in dollar bills and stacked in a room in your house, it would fill the room in your house, plus. All of those dollar bills would not fit into a room. We are talking about such an enormous amount of money that it completely controls the sound in the airwaves.

Let me give you an example. In 2008, if one of the rather well-off companies in America--I will use one as an example. ExxonMobil made a lot of money that year. If they had spent just $3 out of $100 of their net profits on the Presidential race, they would have spent as much as the rest of America put together. That is the type of flood of money we are talking about washing across the cities and the countryside of America, buying up the newspapers, buying up the airwaves, and dominating the debate. That is not a competition of ideas envisioned in our Constitution. That is the power. That is not ``we the people.''

It is my hope that the members of the Supreme Court will stand back and realize their findings of fact were wrong, and their findings of fact that there was no corruption from this flood of money were wrong, their argument that they didn't attack the heart of the Constitution was wrong, the fact that they didn't consider the precensorship this type of flood of money creates was in error, and that they will change their decision.

But we can't be sure this activist rightwing Court will consider the facts and reach a finding consistent with the very heart of the Constitution. We can't be sure of that. We have to do what we can in this Chamber, and that is the DISCLOSE Act, the DISCLOSE Act that at least says at a minimum this huge flood of money will be identified by the donor, and it will be identified promptly so citizens will be able to find out where it came from; also that the advertisements purchased by this money will have disclaimers that will say who the major contributors are so the citizens can see it in real time, so when that group says they are the group for America's green forests and blue skies, and it is really by a very powerful group against blue skies and green forests, we can find out who it is. That is the heart of this. Citizens United is a dagger poised at the heart of the American Constitution. We must reverse it, and we must use every tool at our disposal to make that happen.

I encourage citizens to summon their full instincts about what they value in our democracy and make their voices heard. Let's get this DISCLOSE Act passed and let's go further to reverse Citizens United.

Thank you very much.

I yield the floor to my colleague.


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