Here I am in Washington DC with a free day! Yes, there was a march from the mall up to the Capitol and a group of people went in to try to see John Boehner (his office called the police and the citizens were told to leave or they’d be arrested).
As I was standing at the labor rally calling for good jobs in the shadow of the Capitol, an email arrived from Senator Bernie Sanders‘ office alerting me that he had introduced the first constitutional amendment in his entire congressional career. It’s called The Saving American Democracy Amendment, and would overturn the heinous Supreme Court Citizens United Ruling which allows virtually unlimited anonymous corporate contributions to political campaigns.
December 8, 2011
Warning that “American democracy in endangered,” Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that allowed unrestricted and secret campaign spending by corporations on U.S. elections. The first constitutional amendment ever proposed by Sanders during his two decades in Congress would reverse the narrow 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission.
In that controversial decision almost two years ago, justices gave corporations the same First Amendment free-speech rights as people.
“There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by a constitutional amendment,” Sanders said of the effort to override the court decision that he labeled “a complete undermining of democracy.”
Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment would make clear that corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as people and that corporations may be regulated by Congress and state legislatures. It also would preserve the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. It would incorporate a century-old ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates, and establish broad authority for Congress and states to regulate spending in elections.
Sanders proposal in the Senate is a companion measure to a constitutional amendment introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). “The dominance of corporations in Washington has imperiled the economic security of the American people and left our citizens profoundly disenchanted with our democracy,” the congressman said. “I look forward to working with Sen. Sanders to save American democracy by banning all corporate spending in our elections and cracking down on secret front groups using anonymous corporate cash to undermine the public interest.”
Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, praised the proposal. “Sen. Sanders’ amendment returns us to shared understandings that democracy is for people. Public Citizen applauds and endorses the amendment, and thanks Sen. Sanders for his long-time campaign to reduce excessive corporate power.”
Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, also applauded the amendment. She said it would “root out the rank corruption of our elections by for-profit corporations.” No other amendment proposed in the Senate, she added, “has so definitively confronted the twin problems created by judges who have improperly granted rights to corporations, without democratic consent, and who have used their seats on the bench to favor the wishes of corporate CEOs.”
A proposed amendment originating in Congress must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate in order to be submitted for consideration by the states. Ratification by three-fourths of the states is required to amend the Constitution.
Upon reading the email, I immediately responded to Sen Sanders’ communications director, inquiring if I might be able to get a few minutes with the senator for an interview on this wonderful development. He thought it might be possible, and said he’d get back to me.
At around 2pm he let me know that Bernie had to preside over the Senate for the next hour, pushing his schedule back, so an interview wasn’t going to happen.
Luckily for me, I had been in the process of going to the Senate gallery to watch the proceedings, and I responded to that message saying I was heading there at that moment. I then checked all my electronics, including the cell phone, and entered the gallery.
I watched a couple of votes on the payroll tax – both of which were defeated. It was fairly uneventful, but fascinating to watch the swagger of some of the Senators (Scott Brown and Marco Rubio especially), and the interaction between the members. Much better than C-Span, though I did miss the captions on the screen telling me what they were voting on.
I finally decided it was time to leave, as many of the Senators left after casting their votes. I got my precious electronics back from their safe perch, and checked my messages. There was another message from Michael Briggs in Sen. Sanders office – this one telling me that he would be speaking on his amendent right after the votes, somewhere around 3pm!
Oh shit! I immediately turned around, checked my stuff and went back through the three layers of security to get back into the gallery (to the surprised looks of the many people I had just passed on the way out!).
I got inside just in time to hear Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was then the presiding over the chamber, recognize the gentleman from Vermont.
Yes, I was sitting right above for this wonderful speech from the man I wish was my Senator, Bernie Sanders: