U.S. Reps. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. and John Sarbanes joined state lawmakers in Annapolis on Thursday to push for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling.
As the second anniversary of the contentious decision approaches, the lawmakers were joined by a mix of advocacy groups that said the ruling rolled back nearly a century of limits on corporate and union spending in federal elections.
The Citizens United case could lead to a corporate takeover of the democratic process, Van Hollen warned.
“Citizens United was a real blow to our democracy,” said Mark Hays, campaign coordinator for clean-government advocacy group Public Citizen’s Democracy is for People Campaign.
Thursday’s event was part of a nationwide series of gatherings to show support for a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision.
State legislators are working on a resolution in support of an amendment, the first step in what advocates said would be a multi-step effort.
“The Supreme Court’s radical departure from judicial precedent and democratic values has already brought a torrent of corporate money, much of it secret, directly into American politics, fundamentally distorting public elections and campaigns for public office,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park. “The decision poses a direct and dramatic threat to government of the people, by the people and for the people, and must be overturned.”
In the 2010 cycle, the first after the Citizen United ruling, nearly $300 million was spent by outside groups to influence campaigns, nearly double the amount spent in 2008, Hays said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than $32 million in the 2010 election cycle, opposes efforts to overturn Citizens United.
“We will fight any and all attempts to muzzle and or demonize independent voices from the election discussion,” Thomas J. Donohue, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in a written statement.
But, Hays said national support for a constitutional amendment is “tremendous.”
Already this election cycle, the so-called SuperPacs formed in the wake of Citizen United have had a major influence on the Republican presidential primary, he said.
Susan Wichman, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said the Supreme Court “misread the Constitution and ignored common sense” in its Citizens United ruling.
“Most Americans are appalled by how big corporations and other special interests have hijacked our government and drowned out our voices by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns from the courthouse to the White House,” she said.