Congressman James McGovern (D-Massachusetts) introduced two new amendments to the Constitution on Tuesday, in an attempt to overturn Citizens United and further Congress’s ability to regulate campaign spending. HJ Res 20 pertains to contributions and expenditures in elections and HJ Res 21, or the ‘People’s Rights’ amendment, would directly overturn Citizens United by defining “the words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution [to] not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities.” Tweet
HJ Res 20 would give Congress the direct authority to place limits on the raising and spending of money in federal elections, but these limits are not defined in the amendment. This includes any expenditures made in support of or in opposition to candidates, which would in turn limit the amount of money Super PACs and corporations can spend on express advocacy and issue advocacy. Since the Citizens United decision, there is no longer a limit on how much corporations, individuals or Super PACs can spend on influencing elections. Amending the Constitution is the only way for Congress to directly override the Supreme Court, as it would be forced to uphold any constitutional changes.
HJ Res 21 distinctly conveys that corporations should not be recognized as people under the Constitution and reaffirms that the rights guaranteed to people will not be infringed upon. “Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech…” effectively overturning the Citizens United decision from 2010.
A constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United is not a new idea. During a Reddit AMA last year, Obama stated, “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight [on] the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.” Similarly, the likelihood of one or both of McGovern’s bills becoming the 28th and 29th amendments to the U.S. constitution are very slim. Nevertheless, a renewed legislative debate concerning the role of corporations in elections is now at hand. As seen in the video clip McGovern argues his case against Citizens United,
“My constituents continue to express concern about the growing influence of corporations in our political discourse. They are also demanding action on campaign finance reform – because they are repulsed by the large amount of money in our campaigns. And, quite frankly, they want elected officials to spend more time on policy, on debating and deliberating on issues – and less time dialing for dollars… Our current system has been corrupted – It undermines the rights of ordinary citizens. The preamble to the Constitution is “we the people.” Let us hope this Congress doesn’t forget that.” Tweet this quote: Tweet
Opponents of such an amendment contend that defining “people’s rights” as McGovern does, will result in a loss of rights not only for corporations, but for religious institutions and political organizations as well.
A two-thirds majority vote is required in both houses to officially introduce an amendment to the constitution, a primary stumbling block to many constitutional amendments before HJ Res 20 and HJ Res 21. To become law a proposed amendment must be ratified by 38 of 50 states, a very difficult task.