Objections to the Clean Elections Amendment

We the people

I’ve discovered, much to my surprise, that not everyone is reacting to the Clean Elections Amendment with universal acclaim. (OK, maybe not a big surprise.) I have tried to point out that this is not a partisan issue…both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, should find the CEA to be far superior to our current system of funding elections. I suppose it’s natural that whoever is benefitting most from this system at the present moment might be reluctant to change, but things always change…the shoe always moves to the other foot eventually. Over the long term, it’s in everyone’s best interest to change to the federal funding paradigm, so that elections are always about the character and the ideas of the candidates, rather than about who can sway the most billionaires to their side.

The most cogent argument against the CEA to date has to do with freedom of speech. Does the principle of freedom of speech extend to corporations? Does freedom of speech allow everyone to amplify their speech to the greatest extent that their money can buy? These are not trivial questions…they are at the heart of what motivated the Supreme Court to rule as they did in the Citizens United decision.

I am not a constitutional scholar, but many who are have weighed in against this decision, because they disagreed with this expansion of the meaning of freedom of speech. In our Constitution, freedom of speech is not unlimited. Exceptions include obscenity, defamation, incitement to riot, fraud, and many others. So the issues here are not clear or obvious. Five members of the Roberts court decided that free speech entitles corporations, unions, and other associations to spend money independently from political campaigns to help elect or defeat certain candidates.

Justice Stevens wrote a blistering dissent to Citizens United which argued that legal entities like corporations are not the “We the People” for whom the Constitution was established, and therefore should not be given speech protections under the First Amendment. He argued that the Court’s ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.” He wrote: “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.” Which is precisely what is happening today.

The Clean Elections Amendment is designed to correct these problems. It doesn’t discriminate against any source of funding…ALL sources except federal funds are excluded. Corporations, unions, PAC’s, non-profits, political parties, even personal wealth are all excluded from campaign funding. However, no one is prohibited from buying commercial time and campaigning for or against the issues in any given election. The only restriction is found in Section One, Point D: “Issues-based advertising by any advocacy group or political action committee shall not mention the name or use the face, voice, or likeness of any candidate.”  As long as no candidates are named, seen or heard in the commercial, outside interests can spend as much as they want. If they want to promote gun rights or gun restrictions, for example, these organizations can continue to advertise. They just can’t go after specific candidates.

Everyone is entitled free speech, period. Nothing in the amendment stops that. All it says is that billionaires, corporations and advocacy organizations can’t ENHANCE their speech, when it directly affects our electoral process, beyond the ability of everyone else through massive media buys.

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