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Dick Durbin Endorses Amendment to Dial Back Citizens United

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A top Senate Democrat today endorsed a constitutional amendment to scale back the influence of the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision on campaign finance, adding to an increasingly vocal movement to restrict campaign spending and contributions.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said at a hearing this afternoon that while he was originally reluctant to amend the Constitution, he now believes it is the only option to address a 2010 ruling he says has drowned out the voice of the average American with hundreds of millions of dollars from an elite few.

“Since the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United, we have seen the rapid rise of super PACs and unprecedented influence buying by wealthy individuals seeking to advance their agendas,” Durbin said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which he chairs.

“It’s increasingly clear that the only way to really reform our system is to pass a constitutional amendment to regulate how we finance our elections,” Durbin, the chamber’s Majority Whip,  added.

Support for a constitutional amendment has intensified since the Supreme Court reaffirmed its Citizens United decision in June by striking a century-old ban on corporate political spending in Montana.

Durbin has been a vocal opponent of the Citizens United decision from the start, even authoring the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill that would use grants and vouchers to replace the millions of dollars in campaign donations by wealthy donors and special interest groups.

But at the hearing, Durbin touted a petition with more than 1.9 million signatures from Americans who support amending the Constitution to strike down Citizens United’s effects as part of the reason he got behind the constitutional amendment idea.  

“You don’t want to take a roller to a Rembrandt,” Durbin said about amending the Constitution. Instead, he said Congress should “wait for those moments in history when that is necessary.”

Such strategies face a slim likelihood of garnering the two-thirds majority in Congress and ratification by at least 38 states required for amending the Constitution.

Republicans were noticeably absent from the hearing, which featured testimony from Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.) and Tom Udall (N.M.), both of whom have already authored proposals for amendments that would reverse the precedent set in the Citizens United decision.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leading Republicans have said that any efforts to undo the Supreme Court decision restrict free speech.

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