A Senate committee on Thursday voted to approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution reversing two major Supreme Court rulings and reestablishing the authority of Congress to set campaign finance limits.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure, offered by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) in an effort to overturn the Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC rulings.
The two controversial Supreme Court decisions in 2010 and 2014, respectively, wiped out limits on independent expenditures (thus giving rise to super PACs) and on the total amount a person may give to candidates and committees in an election cycle.
“Restoring the First Amendment to allow Congress and the States the authority to impose reasonable limits on campaign spending is a commonsense measure that we should all be able to support,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the committee. “All Americans should be able to participate in our democracy – not just billionaires and wealthy corporations.”
The vote was a victory for progressives, but it may be the end of the road for the proposal. The amendment passed the committee by a party-line vote of 10 to 8, winning every Democrat and none of the Republicans. The unanimous GOP opposition means it’s extremely unlikely to win the two-thirds majority needed in Congress before it can be sent to the states for ratification.
“Washington Democrats have shown time and again how determined they are to shut down the voices of anyone who has a different point of view. Today, this determination extended to voting against the text of the First Amendment itself,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a vociferous opponent of campaign finance limits.
Democrats want to highlight that contrast in the run-up to the November elections.
The Udall amendment states that the First Amendment does not prohibit Congress or the states from setting limits on how much individuals can contribute to candidates for office, or how much can be spent by (or on behalf of) candidates. It goes out of its way to say the amendment in no way lets Congress “abridge the freedom of the press.”
Legal experts say the five Republican-appointed justices, who ruled this year that the federal government only has a legitimate interest in prohibiting direct bribery, appear ready to continue scrapping campaign finance limits if given the opportunity.