Progressives Push Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

Coalition hopes to end flow of corporate campaign cash unleashed by Supreme Court ruling.

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Opponents of the Supreme Court ruling that led to unlimited corporate campaign spending acknowledged that their bid for a constitutional amendment to address the issue is a long shot, but hope to rally grassroots support for change as a consequence of the effort.

Led by progressive members of Congress, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, a group of national and local activists held a press conference at the Capitol Visitors Center on Wednesday to push back against the controversial ruling known as Citizens United.

"At the very deepest sense, we are fighting to make sure that America does not become an oligarchy where people with unlimited sums of money control the political process and the economic process," Sanders said.

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"We are fighting for grassroots democracy and we're going to win this fight because you're going to help us at the grassroots level, and most importantly because the people of the United States understand that by allowing big-money interests to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns is not what people fought and died for to maintain this great country and our democracy," he said.

Sanders said the 2010 Citizens United decision designating corporations as people and therefore entitled to First Amendment rights of free speech--with campaign spending considered speech--impacts all levels of policymaking in Congress.

"Working people are trying to keep their heads above water and here on Capitol Hill all kinds of money is flooding into this institution so the Congress spends day and night worrying about the wealthy and the powerful and forgetting about the middle class and working families," he said, adding that though that may have historically been the case, it's now worse than ever.

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The coalition of good government groups gathered Wednesday are asking members of Congress to sign a pledge stating their support for "amending the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people, undermined by Citizens United and related cases, to protect the integrity of our elections and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process."

Similar pledges, such as one signed by nearly all Republican members of Congress stating they will not support tax increases, have proven effective at holding members accountable for their promises and had a real impact on legislation.

Typically, constitutional amendments are achieved by Congress passing the proposal by two thirds margins in both the House and Senate followed by three fourths of state legislatures also approving the measures.

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But the road facing these activists is uphill because of the partisan implications of their mission as well as the onerous overall process. While several Democratic members have already sponsored varying constitutional amendments addressing the topic, there is disagreement on whether unions and nonprofits--also granted First Amendment rights in the Citizens United ruling--would be banned from unlimited campaign giving. Unions typically support Democratic candidates and causes versus for-profit corporations, which tend to favor Republicans.

And the impetus for change is partisan as well. Republicans have fared well under the new rules, taking better advantage of the new fundraising landscape, as highlighted by the success of the Karl Rove-headed Super PAC American Crossroads during the 2010 elections. Democrats, meanwhile, have struggled to similarly thrive and perceive the ruling as a campaigning disadvantage.

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