U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today welcomed President Barack Obama's statement in support of a constitutional amendment to undo the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United that paved the way for a flood of campaign cash from corporations and wealthy special interests.
"I applaud President Obama for expressing support for a serious effort to restore the democratic foundations of our country that are under severe attack as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United," the senator said.
Sanders is the chief sponsor of the Saving American Democracy Amendment. A companion measure in the House is sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
The president's indication that he may support a constitutional amendment came during a conversation Wednesday on the website Reddit. Obama decried the "no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super PACs. Over the longer term," Obama added, "I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Citizens United on July 24, Sanders revealed that at least 23 billionaire families have contributed a minimum of $250,000 each so far in this year's campaigns. That includes oil industry titans David and Charles Koch, who are worth $50 billion and have indicated they will spend $400 million this election year, and Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly plans to put $100 million behind candidates and causes he favors.
"What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, "You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.' That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about," Sanders said. "That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed."
Vermont and five other states already have adopted resolutions asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. More than 200 local governments, including about 60 towns in Vermont, have passed similar measures.
Sanders' proposed amendment would say that for-profit corporations are not people, that they are not entitled to any rights under the Constitution, that they are subject to regulation by state legislatures consistent with free press protections, and that they are prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in our elections. The amendment also would declare that Congress and the states have the power to regulate and limit all political expenditures and contributions.