“The Kochs’ bid for a hostile takeover of the American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer. Yet, the Kochs and their Republican followers in Congress continue to assert that these hundreds of millions of dollars are free speech.”
“There should not be a million-dollar entry fee for participating in our democracy.”
“I oppose the notion that a big bank account should give billionaires, corporations or special interest groups a greater place in government than American voters. That is why I support the constitutional amendment proposed by two Senate Democrats, Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennet, that curbs unlimited campaign spending.”
Washington, DC – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today on the need for a constitutional amendment to curb unlimited campaign spending and the Koch brothers’ financing of shadowy political organizations. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
A memo from the Koch-funded political organization, Americans for Prosperity, found its way into the national press last week. The memo details Americans for Prosperity’s plan to spend at least $125 million ensuring the Koch brothers’ hand-picked candidates win elections this November. The memo was sent to a select group – the ultra-radical, mega-rich men and women who fund Americans for Prosperity. The memo was titled: “Confidential Investor Update.” How fitting a title for the Koch brothers’ hostile takeover of the American electoral system.
You see, for the billionaires and millionaires who are dumping unseemly sums of money into shadowy political organizations, their donation is an investment in an America rigged to benefit themselves at the expense of the middle class. The Kochs’ political expenditures are investments, much like any other that is listed in their financial portfolios. And they absolutely expect monetary returns on their investments. The Koch’s bid for a hostile takeover of the American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer. Yet, the Kochs and their Republican followers in Congress continue to assert that these hundreds of millions of dollars are free speech.
For evidence of that, look no further than the Republican Leader, who has flat out said “In our society, spending is speech.” Let me pose the question to the Republican Leader: If this unprecedented spending is free speech, where does that leave your middle-class constituents? How could everyday, working American families afford to make their voices heard, if money equals free speech? Should voters mortgage their homes if they are worried about climate change? If they are concerned about their children’s education, should they max out their credit cards making political contributions? Is our involvement in government completely dependent on our financial resources? The answer, of course, is ‘no.’ There should not be a million-dollar entry fee for participating in our democracy.
As retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens noted before a Senate panel just two weeks ago, “money is not speech.” Justice Stevens went on to say that: “Speech is only one of the activities that are financed by campaign contributions and expenditures. Those financial activities should not receive the same constitutional protection as speech itself. After all, campaign funds were used to finance the Watergate burglaries – actions that clearly were not protected by the First Amendment.”
At its core, the Constitution of the United States of America is the great equalizer. It gives all Americans, regardless of race, background, or financial status, the same freedoms and rights. The U.S. Constitution levels the playing field. The playing field of campaign finance is skewed in favor of interest groups and corporations. Justice Stevens rightly labeled these massive campaign contributors as “non-voters.”
Elections in the United States should be decided by voters, Americans who have a constitutional, fundamental right to elect their representatives. Yet, more and more we see non-voters, like Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity, dictating the results of primaries and elections across the country. Behind these non-voting organizations are the massively wealthy men and women, hoping for a big monetary return on their political donations. When the candidates they bankroll get into office, the winners inevitably begin to legislate their sponsors’ business plans – less regulation and less oversight for corporations. Let me state this plainly for all to hear: No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns, whether they are a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent.
As one political observer noted, we currently have a campaign finance system in place which compels each party to pick which billionaires they like best. That is exactly why the system needs to change. There’s no question the Koch brothers are in a category of their own, in both degree and kind. No one else is pumping as much money into shadowy campaigns to promote issues that make themselves richer. No other individuals are recreating the role of a national political party. I understand that some people may disagree with my assessment. So I say: why not level the playing field for everyone? Let’s get this money out of our political system. Let’s undo the damage done by the Citizens United decision. Let’s do it now.
The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have the more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong. Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote. From what I’ve heard recently, my Republican colleagues seem to have a different view. Republicans seem to think that billionaires, corporations and special interests should be allowed to drown out the voices of Americans. That is wrong and it has to end.
I oppose the notion that a big bank account should give billionaires, corporations or special interest groups a greater place in government than American voters. That is why I support the constitutional amendment proposed by two Senate Democrats, Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennet, that curbs unlimited campaign spending. This amendment grants Congress the authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns. Senators Udall and Bennet’s amendment reins in the massive spending of Super PACs, which have grown exponentially since the Citizens United decision. It also provides states with the authority to institute campaign spending limits at the state level. The proposed amendment makes our nation’s campaigns fairer, and allows candidates to represent their voting constituents, instead of big-spending special interest groups. As Justice Stevens said: “Unlimited campaign expenditures impair the process of democratic self-government. They create a risk that successful candidates will pay more attention to the interests of non-voters who provided them with money than to the interests of the voters who elected them. That risk is unacceptable.”
It is unacceptable, that the recent Supreme Court decisions have taken power away from the American voter, instead giving it to a select few. Soon, Chairman Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Senator Udall and Bennet’s constitutional amendment. The Senate will vote on this legislation after it is reported out of the Committee. I urge my colleagues to support this constitutional amendment – to rally behind our democracy. I understand what we Senate Democrats are proposing is no small thing – amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly. But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons. It is time that we revive our constituents’ faith in the electoral system, and let them know that their voices are being heard.