Seeking to overturn the Citizens United case, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., filed a bill Tuesday that would amend the U.S. Constitution to get money out of politics by toppling key provisions of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision. The bipartisan legislation was introduced alongside U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-Nc., and establishes that financial expenditures and in-kind contributions do not qualify as protected free speech under the First Amendment. It also makes Election Day a legal holiday and enables Congress to establish a public financing system that would serve as the sole source of funding for federal elections.
Yarmuth says the court’s January 2010 decision has opened the floodgates for corporate and special-interest influence on elections and in Washington.
“Corporate money equals influence, not free speech,” Yarmuth said in a news release. “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.”
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected spending limits for corporations within federal election law, allowing companies to spend unlimited amounts for communications that advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.
The high court determined that a ban on those expenditures was illegal and that corporations, like people, have rights to free speech.
Since then, the debate over the case has been sharp on both sides and other lawmakers, namely U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have proposed constitutional amendments to counter the court’s ruling.
The Yarmuth-Jones Disclose Act would reverse most of that decision and allows Congress to regulate campaign finance without a constitutional challenge.
“If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed. The status quo is dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, and that’s simply unacceptable to the American people,” Congressman Jones said in a release.
According to Yarmuth’s office, outside groups spent four times more money on last year’s mid-term elections compared to the races in 2006. And because there are no new disclosure requirements, much of the money has been spent outside the view of the public.
Last year, lawmakers introduced a similar bill to show the source of those contributions that would have installed disclosure requirements for new corporate spenders. But despite bi-partisan support, Senate Republicans filibustered the legislation and it was defeated.
Yarmuth’s legislation faces an equally difficult challenge in passing the Republican-controlled House and another fight in the Senate if the bill makes it that far.
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress before being approved by three-fourths of state legislatures.