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Money in Politics and the 'Real' Issues We Face

By Marge Baker

September 14, 2014 "ICH" - This week, nearly five years after the Supreme Court paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending through its Citizens United decision, a majority of the Senate voted in support of a constitutional amendment that would overturn that decision.

What was remarkable about the vote wasn't the result, but why it happened at all. Since the day Citizens United was handed down, Americans across the political spectrum have rejected its reasoning. Even while pundits were explaining that the constitutional amendment would never receive widespread support, grassroots activists were organizing on a massive scale to demand exactly that.

In the weeks leading up to the floor vote, petition deliveries and rallies in support of the amendment -- which would restore legislators' ability to set reasonable limits on money in elections -- happened in 21 states. We heard from Senate staff that their offices were flooded with calls, with more than 15,000 calls in support of the amendment coming in this week alone. More than 3 million Americans signed their name to a petition calling for an amendment. Not to mention the activists across the country who have for years been pushing, successfully, for hundreds of state and local resolutions in support of overturning decisions like Citizens United.

This is how democracy is supposed to work. Citizens and activists who feel passionately about an issue make their views clear and their elected officials respond. Yes, there were committed leaders within the Senate who pushed hard for the Democracy For All amendment, but the movement demanding the Senate debate the issue was driven by the grassroots.

Despite the cynicism of beltway reporters and commentators, many of whom failed to see this as anything other a partisan squabble in an election year and a distraction from "real" issues, we know that this is the debate the American people wanted. That's what 3 million Americans who spoke out against Citizens United do recognize -- that our money-drenched electoral system is the real issue. It's an issue that underlies the stalled progress on so many other issues.

Everyday Americans are connecting those dots. They see that their opinions and voices are increasingly being shut out of a system that is supposed to be of, by, and for them. Maybe that's why nine in ten Americans think there is too much corporate money in politics, and a full 73 percent of voters support a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.

As Sen. Bernie Sanders said on the Senate floor this week, "Of all of the issues out there -- whether you are concerned about education, health care, the environment, the economy -- the most important issue underlying all of those issues is the need to end this disastrous Supreme Court decision which allows billionaires to buy elections." To fix any of these problems, we have to fix our democracy problem and make the voices and votes of everyday Americans central to our political process once again.

This is just the beginning of that fight. After all, amending the Constitution should be hard. But in Sen. Chuck Schumer's words, "We are going to keep fighting until we get this done. The only way really to cure the Supreme Court's misguided ruling, whether it is in Citizens United or McCutcheon, is with a constitutional amendment. Our day will come. We are not giving up."

In the meantime, though, I'm not going to forget on Election Day which senators cast their vote this week for everyday Americans and which ones cast their vote for billionaires and corporations. And I'm pretty sure those other 3 million Americans who I'm joining in this fight won't, either.

 Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program, People For the American Way & People For the American Way Foundation
 

 

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