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U.S. senator introduces constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United ruling

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 12, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Tuesday he has introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed unrestricted campaign spending by corporations.

The nation's high court held in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited because of the First Amendment.

The Court's ruling in favor of Citizens United stemmed from a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation could air a film critical of current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sanders, a Vermont independent who often describes himself as a democratic socialist, argues that the Court's ruling "undermined democracy" by "opening the campaign spending floodgates."

Sanders noted that nine states, including his home state, and more than 300 cities and towns have already passed resolutions calling for the ruling to be overturned.

The senator said as a result of the controversial decision, a record $7 billion was spent in the 2012 election cycle.

Sanders pointed to billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who, he said, reportedly steered at least $400 million into campaigns.

David is a co-owner, with older brother Charles, and executive vice president of Koch Industries, a conglomerate that is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States.

Last year, David Koch was named the fourth richest person in America by Forbes, and was deemed the second-richest resident of New York City by New York Magazine in 2010.

"What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson (chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the parent company of Venetian Macao Limited, which operates The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center), 'You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government,'" Sanders said in a statement.

"That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed."

The Democracy is for People amendment would make it clear that the right to vote and the ability to make campaign contributions and expenditures belong only to "real people," Sanders explained.

The amendment would effectively prevent corporations from bankrolling election campaigns.

Congress and states would have specific authority to regulate campaign finances by, for example, limiting donations, requiring disclosure of donors or creating public-financing systems for campaigns, he said.

"The Democracy is for People Amendment will stop corporations and their front groups from using their profits and dark money donations to influence our elections while reaffirming the right of the American people to elections that are fair and representatives that are accountable," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who filed the amendment in the House.

A similar constitutional amendment was introduced by Sanders and Deutch during the last Congressional session.

An amendment originating in Congress must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate in order to be submitted for consideration by the states.

Ratification by three-fourths of the states is required to amend the Constitution.

To view a copy of the amendment, click here.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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