Help Me Understand Money In Politics

October 30th 2014

ATTN: Staff

A Q&A with Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of Policy and Program at People For the American Way.

Q: What is all this talk about amending the Constitution, and how is amending the Constitution different than just passing a law?
The Constitution is the fundamental document that sets the framework for how our government should work and sets out the basic rights of “We the People.” It’s intended to be updated to deal with new and important issues, but because it’s the foundation for all of our other laws, the process for amending it is harder. Instead of needing a majority (51%) approval in the House and Senate (in addition to the President’s signature) to pass, an amendment requires the support of 2/3 of the House and Senate, as well as ratification by ¾ of the states. So far the Constitution has been amended 27 times, often with the purpose of expanding participation in our democracy.

Q: What does the Democracy for All Amendment say, and why is it necessary?
The Democracy for All amendment would give Congress and state legislatures the ability to set reasonable limits on the amount of money that can be spent in elections. Reasonable limits are ones that aren’t too strict and that apply equally to everyone. The amendment is necessary because the Supreme Court, in cases like Citizens United v. FEC, has tied the hands of legislators and blocked them from preventing wealthy individuals and corporations from buying our elections. In order to fix this situation, we need to overrule what the Supreme Court has said – and to do that, we need to amend the Constitution.

Q: Why shouldn't someone be able to use their dollars to speak their political views and run ads?
The Democracy for All amendment does not say people cannot or should not be able to speak their political views or to spend money running ads. It simply allows Congress and state legislatures to set limits on the amount of money that can be spent in elections. The amendment is meant to protect the right to free speech for all Americans and to level the political playing field. Money in politics has skyrocketed on the local, state and federal level in the wake of cases like Citizens United. This excessive political spending diminishes the voices of those who cannot afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in elections.

Q: Don't newspaper owners speak their political views? What's next? Outlawing them?
There is nothing in the Democracy for All amendment that changes the law with respect to freedom of the press. Newspapers can, and should, continue to write editorials and publish opinion pieces. However, there is a difference between making a written or spoken argument and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence local, state or federal races, particularly when in many cases we don’t even know who is spending the money. If a newspaper or media company wants to promote a particular viewpoint, they can – and will continue to be allowed to do so under the Democracy for All amendment.

Q: And what about stopping nonprofits and public interest groups from spending money? Don't they (ie: labor unions) represent middle class people, as opposed to the uber wealthy?
Under this amendment, nonprofits and public interest groups will still be free to engage in political debate on issues of concern to the constituencies they represent. All this amendment does is allow Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money to influence elections — a change that many nonprofits and public interest groups would benefit from and want to see happen!

Ok I get it. How can I get involved in the movement?

The quickest and easiest way to make a difference is to sign our petition calling for a constitutional amendment to #GetMoneyOut. We’re aiming to get 5 million signatures by the 5th anniversary of Citizens United, coming up in January. So far 28 organizations have collectively gathered almost 3.5 million signatures! Help us reach this goal by signing and sharing!

If you want to get even more involved, check out our Democracy for All activist toolkit, created for people just like you.