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Congressman Expresses Difficulty in Challenging Citizens United in Hyper-Partisan Environment

by Gabriel Saint Cyr, published

On Thursday, the sixth anniversary of the controversial Citizens United decision, U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) held a press conference at North Clairemont Community Park in San Diego with CalPIRG to express support for campaign finance reform.

Peters called for an amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the decision that struck down legal limits on the amount of money corporations, labor unions, and certain special interest groups can spend on elections.

The case led to the creation of Super PACs and “dark money” groups that do not need to disclose the sources of their donations.

“Six years of anonymous Super PACs controlling elections is long enough, and we need to send a message to Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United,” Peters said. “It's time to bring the focus back to policy, to the issues, to the job we were expected to do.”

When asked by an IVN correspondent if such an amendment would extend to campaign donations from political parties, he said it certainly should be a part of the discussion as well.

However, the path to ratifying any constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United ruling remains unclear. The last time an amendment was added to the Constitution was in 1992, and though that doesn't seem that long ago, what we know today as the Twenty-Seventh Amendment was originally introduced in 1789.

There are only a few ways a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution can go from proposal to ratification. First, the proposed amendment must be approved and sent to the states by:

  • The U.S. Congress with a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate; or
  • A national convention, called by Congress for this specific purpose or two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures.

Then, to become a part of the Constitution, an amendment must be ratified by:

  • Three-fourths (38) of the state legislatures; or
  • State ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states.

In the history of the United States, a national convention has never been called by either Congress or two-thirds of the states (though there have been a couple of close calls). Amendments have always come from Congress and then ratified by the state legislatures, which in the current political environment seems highly improbable.

When asked about the chances of such an amendment passing a Congress held up by continuous gridlock, Peters acknowledged the frustration with the status quo on both sides of the aisle. He hopes that speaking up about Citizens United will spur voters to raise the issue to the 2016 presidential candidates and turn it into a national discussion. Then, the proposed amendment could at least come to a vote on the floor.

Peters also touched on other ways to address campaign finance reform. One provision in his plan would mandate that Super PACs disclose their financial backers, a measure that the Obama administration is currently considering to enact through executive order. He also pointed to his support for the Government by the People Act, a bill that would encourage small campaign donations by creating a matching fund.

“If we're going to get a change,” Peters said, “it's going to be because people are saying, 'we see that money in politics affects us because we're not attending to the things we should be.'"

Image: U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) / Source: Shawn M. Griffiths, IVN News

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