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Montana Ruling Could Fuel Campaign to Amend Constitution

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Adam Schiff wants to limit political money with a constitutional amendment.

The amendments on the table are patently unconstitutional and would rob civic groups, soccer leagues and churches of their basic right to associate and speak out, say scholars at the Center for Competitive Politics. Polls show that the segment of the public believing the First Amendment does not go too far reached a high of 79 percent last year, noted President David Keating, citing a 2011 survey by the First Amendment Center.

“I don’t see Congress passing it,” Keating said. “And even if it did, I don’t see three-quarters of the states ratifying it. It’s just too dangerous a concept.”

If nothing else, the Montana ruling throws into stark relief the sharply divergent options facing Congress and the courts as they respond to the wave of unrestricted spending unleashed by Citizens United. Reform advocates on and off Capitol Hill lobbied the Supreme Court to take up the Montana case to revisit and rehear Citizens United. By summarily rejecting the Montana ban, the high court majority signaled that it remains firmly in the deregulation camp.

Far from clearing the way for new campaign finance restrictions, the Supreme Court might well lift political money limits still further, given the precedents set in Citizens United. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and some Republicans on Capitol Hill have called for an end to existing limits on contributions to parties and candidates, one of the few remaining election laws on the books.

Republicans have also mounted a campaign to discredit Democratic-authored disclosure legislation as an invitation to harassment and an assault on free speech. And additional campaign finance challenges, many of them led by activist Indiana lawyer James Bopp Jr., are wending their way through the courts.

“America has to wake up to the fact that there is a conservative legal and judicial movement afoot to wipe out all campaign finance laws, and James Bopp is very clear about that,” said Raskin, who authored a letter asking Congress to consider a constitutional amendment that has been signed by a majority of Maryland’s state legislators.

To Raskin, that makes the case for a constitutional amendment all the more urgent. Some on Capitol Hill agree. Following Monday’s ruling, several Democrats who have either authored or co-sponsored constitutional amendments issued statements saying they would now redouble their efforts. That includes Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the most recent federal lawmaker to propose an amendment to permit limits on political money.

Instead of revisiting Citizens United, “the court doubled down on its flawed decision,” Schiff said. “Regrettably, this makes a constitutional amendment — such as the one I introduced last week — all the more necessary.”

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