On Tuesday an Assembly committee heard testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 4, which would urge Congress to amend the Constitution to strike the free speech portion of the First Amendment. SJR4, sponsored by Las Vegas Democratic state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, specifically would erase the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that it was unconstitutional to forbid the broadcast of a movie critical of then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton just because it was paid for by a corporation.
The summary of SJR4 reads: “Urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution to allow the reasonable regulation of political contributions and expenditures by corporations, unions and individuals to protect the integrity of elections and the equal right of all Americans to effective representation.”
It may as well read: “Democracy is dead because the citizens of the United States are too stupid to hear vigorous debate and make rational decisions.”
The resolution argues that large political donations corrupts candidates and dilutes the power of individuals.
Pay no heed to the fact that in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was outspent by Hillary Clinton by two-to-one — $600 million to $1.2 billion.
This proposal goes even further than most arguments against Citizens United — basically that corporations and unions are not people and have no free speech rights — and proposes to allow regulation and limitations on any and all political contributions and expenditures, including those by individuals, by also overturning the Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC.
Democrats think all money belongs to the state except what the state allows you to keep, and now they demand to take control of how you spend that.
Jeff Clements, president of American Promise, an organization pressing for such a constitutional amendment, testified to the Assembly committee by phone.
He said we need to get back our constitutional foundation that “really has gone back in a non-partisan and cross-partisan way for over a century. It is not to say there is anything bad corporations and unions or the very, very wealthy… If we allow unlimited deployment of the financial resources from those and other sources, it overwhelms the rights we have as Americans and the duties we have to participate in our self-governing republic, as equal citizens with equal representation.”
He argued that politics is not a marketplace to be bought and sold.
Yes, it is a marketplace of ideas. But no matter how much someone spends trying to persuade us to buy, we don’t have to buy it.
As for it being a non-partisan issue as Clements claimed, the vote on SJR4 in the state Senate this past week was on a party-line vote of 12-9. All Democrats in favor. All Republicans opposed.
Let’s hear what the court had to say about free speech in McCutcheon:
The Government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combatting corruption and its appearance. We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the Government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them. For the reasons set forth, we conclude that the aggregate limits on contributions do not further the only governmental interest this Court accepted as legitimate in Buckley. They instead intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise “the most fundamental First Amendment activities.”
In Citizens United, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:
The (First) Amendment is written in terms of “speech,” not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals — and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is “speech” covered by the First Amendment. No one says otherwise. A documentary film critical of a potential Presidential candidate is core political speech, and its nature as such does not change simply because it was funded by a corporation. Nor does the character of that funding produce any reduction whatever in the “inherent worth of the speech” and “its capacity for informing the public,” …Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy. We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate.
I’ll put that up against the Democrats’ bleating about money corrupting the political process.