Democrats Introduce “Desperately Needed” Legislation to Overturn “Citizens United”

Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jim McGovern are seen on the floor during Speaker of House votes on January 6, 2023. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A group of House Democrats has introduced legislation that would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a 13-year old Supreme Court precedent that unleashed a deluge of money into the American political system — a bill that comes directly after the most expensive midterm election in history.

The Democracy For All Amendment would create a constitutional amendment that would affirm that the U.S. Constitution does not bar congressional or state lawmakers from placing restrictions on the amount of money that can be spent to influence elections. It would specify that corporations do not enjoy the same rights as people, prohibiting corporations from being able to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.

Further, the legislation would allow states to create systems to publicly finance elections. Public financing takes influence away from the wealthiest donors, giving more power to the public in the campaign donation sphere while incentivizing candidates to appeal to regular voters, rather than trying to court the support of the rich.

​​“The flow of unrestricted corporate and dark money into our elections has dangerously eroded the American people’s faith in our democracy, and in our government’s ability to deliver for them and their families,” Schiff said in a statement. “To truly rein in dark money, we must amend our Constitution.”

Schiff has been reintroducing this proposal since 2013. Lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have filed similar legislation.

“Corporations are not people and money is not speech,” Jayapal added. “In every election following Citizens United, billions of dollars of dark money have been dumped into our electoral system, giving corporations and the richest Americans outsized power and influence. It’s time to ensure our democracy works for all people by getting big money out of politics and ensuring every voter’s voice is heard.”

Voting rights and progressive advocates have long called for an end to Citizens United, which has allowed billionaires, dark money groups and corporations to spend however much they deem necessary to influence elections and politics in their favor.

The amount of outside spending on elections has grown dramatically every election cycle since the decision was handed down, and in 2022 grew to over $2 billion for the first time in a midterm election. Meanwhile, an analysis found that billionaires alone spent nearly $1 billion more on the 2020 election than they ever spent before Citizens United, or almost 40 times more than they were previously spending.

This spending — a majority of which often goes toward supporting Republicans — has a huge impact on elections. An OpenSecrets analysis done shortly after the 2022 election found that, of the House races that had been called the Thursday after the election, 96 percent had been won by the candidate who spent the most in the race. This enables billionaires and other deep-pocketed donors to continue advocating for policies that allow them to hoard even more money, creating an endless cycle of corruption.

Big donors maintain their influence beyond elections as well, as demonstrated by people like right-wing court activist and anti-abortionist Leonard Leo, who has had a hand in the appointment of every Supreme Court justice appointed by Trump.

Progressive group Public Citizen said that the amendment would go far in combating fascism in the U.S. “There is a direct line from the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrific Citizens United decision to the rise of fascistic movements threatening the very existence of our democracy,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said in a statement.

“The reality and perception of super rich and corporate control of our politics — as well as the failure of the government to address the felt needs of people across the nation — fuels despair and alienation. It creates ripe conditions for conspiracists and demagogues to offer false solutions and appeal to people’s worst instincts. It has fueled the fascistic movements that pose a clear and present danger to our democratic future,” Weissman continued. “We can’t go on like this — and there’s no reason we should.”

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  • Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout covering politics, climate and labor. Before coming to Truthout, Sharon had written stories for Pacific StandardThe New Republic, and more. She has a master’s degree in environmental studies. She can be found on Twitter: @zhang_sharon.