Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall led the Senate in rallying historic support for a constitutional amendment on campaign finance. The amendment, S.J. Res. 19, won 54 votes, a majority of the Senate, but failed to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican filibuster and advance to a final vote. An outspoken critic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, Udall introduced his constitutional amendment last June to make it clear in the Constitution that Congress and the states have the authority to regulate campaign finance. The amendment would effectively reverse the Court’s 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, which first equated money and speech, as well as subsequent decisions, including Citizens United and McCutcheon. Udall issued the following statement:
"Today was a historic day for campaign finance reform, with more than half of the Senate voting on a constitutional amendment to make it clear that the American people have the right to regulate campaign finance. It is unfortunate, but not unexpected, that Republicans would filibuster this measure and instead choose to support a broken system that prioritizes corporations and billionaires over regular voters.
"A narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has been systematically diluting the power of the American voter by allowing corporations and billionaires to pour millions of dollars to influence our elections. New Mexicans, and all Americans, are sick of corporations and special interests trying to buy our elections. Over 3 million people have signed petitions, which were delivered to me on Monday, calling for Washington to reform the broken campaign finance system. But during this debate, Republicans have shown that they are ignoring these calls in favor of elections bought and paid for by secret donors and special interests.
“Momementum continues to build for common-sense campaign finance reform, and I will keep leading this fight on behalf of New Mexicans and all Americans to restore our nation’s founding principle -- a democracy of, by, and for the people.”
After the vote, Udall submitted the following remarks to the Congressional Record:
We have had an important debate this week, a debate about bringing sanity back to our elections. I want to thank all of my colleagues who have joined this fight, and I want to thank the millions of Americans, regardless of party, who stand behind us.
Over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln saw the danger of too much money in politics. Lincoln warned about “corruption in high places…until the Republic is destroyed.”
Changing the Constitution is a big step. As James Madison said, it should be amended only on “great and extraordinary occasions.” I agree; but I also believe we have reached one of those rare occasions. The Supreme Court put up a ‘for sale’ sign on our elections. On the foundation of our democracy. It is wrong. It is dangerous. And it cannot stand.
Amending the Constitution can take a long time. The 19th amendment was first introduced in 1878. Opponents called it impractical, and immoral, for daring to give women the right to vote. It took more than 40 years to pass. But its proponents didn’t give up, and they eventually prevailed.
Today’s vote is a step forward in that long process. One more step toward restoring our democracy. We will keep pushing until this amendment is reality.
But that will take the support of my Republican colleagues. I was disappointed that none of them voted in support of our amendment this week, as it has a bipartisan history. Some of them have cosponsored and voted for similar amendments in the past, before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions destroyed many of the bipartisan campaign finance laws that took years to pass.
Some of them said this was just an election year stunt. But that ignores reality. This movement started decades ago – by a Republican. Many of our predecessors from both parties understood the danger. They knew the corrosive effect that money from sources across the political spectrum has on our electoral system. They spent years championing the cause.
In 1983 – the 98th Congress – Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican icon from Alaska, introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision that established the flawed premise that money and constitutionally protected speech were the same thing.
Senator Stevens already saw the deteriorating effect unlimited campaign expenditures were having on Congress. In a speech on the Senate floor on the day he introduced the amendment, Senator Stevens said:
I, for one, would like to see the time come when there would be a limitation on the expenditures and the upward pressure on candidates, so that those who are seeking reelection, those who are seeking to challenge incumbents, or those who are seeking to fill a vacancy would not have this pressure that is brought about by the necessity to raise ever-increasing amounts to campaign for Federal office.
Senator Stevens recognized over thirty years ago that we were in an arms race – that the drive for money would only get worse and Congress’s ability to function would suffer.
This was only the beginning of the movement to amend the Constitution. In every Congress from the 99th to the 108th, Senator Fritz Hollings introduced bipartisan constitutional amendments similar to S.J. Res. 19. Senators Schumer and Cochran continued the effort in the 109th Congress. Even Minority Leader McConnell once had his own constitutional amendment to limit the influence of money on our elections.
That was all before the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, before things went from bad to worse. The out of control spending since those decisions has further poisoned our elections.
But no matter how bad things get, an amendment can only succeed if Republicans join us in this effort, as they have in the past. I know the political climate of an election year makes it even more difficult, but today’s vote is not the end. I will reintroduce this amendment in the next Congress, and I hope my Republican colleagues will join me. Poll after poll shows that our constituents – across the political spectrum – want this amendment. It’s time we listened to them.
We had a great debate this week. It raised awareness of the issue across the country. But we also heard a lot of hysteria on this floor from some of my colleagues across the aisle. Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way, summed up the debate from the other side of the aisle quite well. He said, “A good rule of thumb in politics is that the scarier someone sounds, the more you should doubt what they’re saying.”
So, we’ve been treated to a parade of imaginary horribles. Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels is going to jail for writing political satire. So is the little old lady next door for putting up a $5 political yard sign. Books and movies will be banned. The NAACP and Sierra Club will be muzzled. Pretty scary stuff. And complete nonsense.
Congress has a long history, since 1867, of campaign finance reform. Any reading of this history is very clear. The reforms were sensible and reasonable. If they weren’t, they would have little chance of passing both houses of Congress. Or being signed by the President. And even under our constitutional amendment, extreme legislation can still be struck down by the Court. The other side knows this.
For over 150 years, Congress had a say in how money affects our elections. And it needed to. In the wake of scandals, it acted to curb excess and corruption. Reform was bipartisan. It was responsible. And it did not shut down the New York Times or the Heritage Foundation. Comedians and actors did not go to jail. It has not threatened free speech.
Those who think that money is speech need to look at where that flawed premise has led our country. Historically low approval ratings for Congress, polarization of the electorate, and a failure to compromise on the most pressing issues facing the nation. Senator Hollings recognized the deterioration of our legislative branch due to the increasing influence of money on our elections. In a Huffington Post piece titled “Money is a Cancer in Politics,” he wrote:
“Money has not only destroyed bi-partisanship but corrupted the Senate. Not the senators, but the system. In 1966 when I came to the Senate, Mike Mansfield, the Leader, had a roll call every Monday morning at 9:00 o’clock in order to be assured of a quorum to do business. And he kept us in until 5:00 o’clock Friday so that we got a week’s work in . . . Today, there’s no real work on Mondays and Fridays, but we fly out to California early Friday morning for a luncheon fundraiser, a Friday evening fundraiser, making individual money appointments on Saturday and a fundraising breakfaston Monday morning, flying back for perhaps a roll call Monday evening.”
I agree with his assessment, and also remember when fundraising wasn’t the priority it is today. My father was elected to Congress in 1954, when I was in first grade. Back then, the legislative branch was a Citizens’ Congress. Members were in Washington for six months, and then they went home for six months and worked at their profession. But during those six months in session, Congress focused on legislating.
Unfortunately, our current campaign finance system has locked members of Congress into an endless campaign cycle. Elected officials spend far too much time raising money for campaigns, and not enough time carefully considering legislation or listening to constituents. The drive to raise money is constant, and allowing vast new amounts of special interest money into the system will only increase the pressure. This causes a deterioration of Congress’s ability to function, including its ability to adequately represent and respond to its constituents.
As the money raised and spent on campaigns by special interests continues to climb, members of Congress will have to devote more time trying to keep up in the fundraising race. It is no wonder that, as the pursuit of campaign money has come to dominate politics, the American people have become increasingly dissatisfied with Congress’ performance.
Mr. President, that is the whole point. That is why we are here. Because our elections cannot be for sale to the highest bidder. The Supreme Court has opened the floodgates. The American people are demanding that we close them.
Because they know, and we know, that we have a broken system. Today’s New York Times editorial sums it up well. It states that, “As long as money is officially categorized as protected speech, there will be no brake on the ability of the rich and special interests to drown out other voices.”
The First Amendment has already been hijacked by billionaires and special interests. Our amendment rescues it.
Here’s the bottom line. Billionaires want to stay at the head of the table and our amendment won’t let them. Let’s be clear, they oppose any restriction. Any reform. Today’s vote may have been along party lines, but I will leave it to the American people to judge why.
We will continue this fight. The momentum continues to grow, and we will eventually win. The American people hate the influence of money on our elections. They want elections to be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts. They want us to fight for the middle class, not the moneyed class. And they want us to spend our time raising hopes, instead of raising cash.
Mr. President, as I said in my remarks earlier this week at the beginning of this debate, there is a well-known quote from the Watergate era. “Follow the money.” Because we all know the truth: The road to corruption, to undue influence, is paved with money. We need to get off that road, for the integrity of our electoral system, for the people who send us here, and for the future of our country.
As we wrap up this week’s debate, and this historic vote, I want to thank several people. Senator Bennet joined me in this effort over four years ago. Our amendment in the 111th Congress had four cosponsors. Today it has 49. I also want to express my appreciation for the efforts of Chairman Leahy and Senator Durbin, and thank their staff, particularly Josh Hsu and Albert Sanders. The amendment received a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. It went through markups in Senator Durbin’s subcommittee and in the full committee. It was debated, and revised, and improved.
And I want to thank the diverse coalition of groups who have worked tirelessly to build support for our amendment. Groups like People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech For People, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, and all the organizations working under the banner of United For The People.
I ask unanimous consent that today’s New York Times editorial, “An Amendment to Cut Political Cash,” be included in the Record.