Drain Big Money Out of Politics. Overturn Citizens United. Pass the 28th Amendment | Opinion

Today, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduces the Democracy for All Amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and get big money out of politics. The bill is co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) along with 2020 presidential candidates Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO).

If passed and ratified, the Amendment will become the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution. This constitutional amendment will enable what the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum urgently want, which are reasonable limits on money in state and federal elections to combat corruption, increase electoral competition, and protect the right of every American to speak, be heard and have representation in our political system.

With a large number of Democratic Senators and presidential candidates joining in support of the proposal, and with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adamantly opposed, some may be tempted to write this off as a partisan stunt.

Others may point to the high bar for constitutional amendments needing passage by two-thirds of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. They might assume this proposal is an exercise in futility. Both reactions, while understandable in normal political times, are misplaced today.

With record-breaking money flooding our political system, a collapse in confidence in both our government and democracy itself, political parties fragmented and challenged by outsiders, independents, and billionaire-driven free-lance political operations, any calculation about the stability of current political alignments is hazardous at best.

Today, the American electorate is alienated, angry and fearful, sensing that the people have lost control of the system. And they're right.

The 2018 midterm election was the most expensive in history with over five billion dollars spent in all races. Most of this money came from less than half of 1 precent of Americans. Nearly 90 percent of voters see corruption as widespread, and more than half now call political corruption a crisis that is greater than deficits, immigration and climate change.

A series of disastrous Supreme Court decisions has helped create the dire situation we face. A decade ago, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court decreed that because money may amplify speech, limits on political spending amount to a violation of free speech rights, no matter the amount or source of money or the consequences to the free speech rights of those without such money.

By now it is clear that the Court's theory, that unlimited spending increases information for voters and competition to incumbents, has failed. Only a tiny elite donate more than $200 to political campaigns. Yet, these donations account for more than 70 percent of all individual contributions to federal candidates, PACs, parties and outside groups.

Data shows that because money reigns, most Americans cannot participate meaningfully in determining candidates and election results. Wealthy Americans and corporate interests hold wildly disproportionate influence, and they typically have different policy preferences than the average voter. Incumbents raise more money because they can reward donors and punish enemies, and they usually win, no matter how frustrated the voters may be.

The Court has not corrected course but has doubled down in subsequent cases, going after long-standing state and federal anti-corruption laws as supposed violations of the First Amendment. So, only a constitutional amendment can fix the problem and give power to the American people and the states, curbing a race toward plutocracy.

Historically, amendments have come in turbulent times. Americans ratified four amendments between 1961 and 1971, just as their grandparents ratified four amendments between 1910 and 1920 to help bring America out of the crisis of inequality that marked the Gilded Age. Eight of amendments have nullified Supreme Court decisions.

But historic analogy alone won't get an amendment ratified. Successful amendments must meet two critical requirements: A national consensus that it must be done, and ubiquitous citizen and political engagement that creates the will for the 2/3 vote in Congress and ratification across 38 diverse states. This amendment meets both requirements.

National consensus is overwhelming and persistent. More than 75 percent of Americans support an amendment to limit the power of money in state and federal elections. Citizen grass-roots efforts from Republicans, Democrats and Independents have driven votes in scores of states and local communities that have passed resolutions for this amendment, typically with 70-85 percent popularity. In states from Montana to Maine, and Wyoming to New Hampshire, Republicans and Democrats have joined together to support an amendment to authorize effective election spending rules.

As of this month, twenty states and more than 800 towns and cities have passed formal resolutions calling for the amendment. Millions of Americans have petitioned Congress, state legislatures, and have passed ballot initiatives in five states to advance this amendment.

We must continue to move this constitutional amendment forward and renew our national commitment to effective self-government of equal, free citizens. In the past three years, five more states took action in legislatures or ballot initiatives to press Congress to act, and 250 candidates in 2018 signed a pledge to support the amendment. In all 50 states, Americans have joined local associations, participated in 28th Amendment town halls, written, called, and visited Capitol Hill and state legislatures in citizen lobby days. They've successfully conducted cross-partisan community outreach where they live.

Millions of Americans are tired of the cynicism and know that the era of toxic partisanship, corruption, domination of money from the few, and massively unequal representation must end. Only then will effective democracy have a future, and will we be able to tackle so many urgent, long-festering and dangerous national challenges.

Jeff Clements is President of American Promise

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Correction 7/30, 6:35: This story originally said Senator Schumer was Senate Majority Leader. He is Senate Minority Leader.