Professor warns of 'alarming implications' of joint resolution targeting political contributions

By David Yates | Jun 10, 2014

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A Senate joint resolution aimed at amending the First Amendment to reign in political contributions will have "alarming implications" if ratified, says a Chapman University professor.

On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment, S.J. Res. 19, which seeks "to advance the fundamental principle of political equality for all" by telling people what they can spend on elections.

"[T]o protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes, Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections," S.J. Res. 19 says. "Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

In a Monday Verdict article, Ronald Rotunda, professor of jurisprudence at Chapman University, writes that with 41 cosponsors already, the proposal would enable incumbents to regulate political campaigns.

"If you want to run for office, you have to spend money," Rotunda wrote. "Money talks. You need it to rent a hall, to rent a megaphone, to hire lawyers to guide you through the labyrinth governing campaign finance."

Rotunda, a former commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission, further warned readers of the "alarming implications" of the proposal.

"S.J. Res. 19 would give political speech less protection than the First Amendment now gives to movies, novels, comic books and Nazis marching through Skokie, Illinois," Rotunda wrote. "What about movies that consider political subjects? Remember Fahrenheit 911, the 2004 documentary that political commentator Michael Moore directed? S.J.Res. 19 would authorize Congress or a state to ban that film."

In recent years, the Supreme Court has found regulating campaign contributions infringes on First Amendment rights.

In April, justices struck down overall campaign contribution limits in case of McCutcheon v. FEC, citing corruption as a non-issue.

In 2010, justices ruled on Citizens United v. FEC, opining that corporations and unions could make unlimited independent expenditures that are not coordinated with a campaign.

"To tamper with the artistry of the First Amendment is akin to adding a codpiece to Michelangelo's David, so those who think that David's attire is too immodest would no longer be offended," Rotunda wrote in conclusion.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall introduced S.J. Res. 19 on June 18, 2013.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com.

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