Efforts to alter the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which helped usher in multimillion-dollar super PACs, have died in Congress, as recently as two weeks ago. And the Supreme Court itself upheld the ruling in its most recent term. But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is still convinced that Citizens United will be reversed.
“It isn’t going to last very long,” he told Democrats on Tuesday during a conference call to discuss the next step in overturning the controversial Supreme Court decision. “Just because you didn’t win the first time doesn’t mean you can’t win down the road. Persistence matters, public engagement matters.”
Whitehouse was the primary sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, which sought to require campaign groups to be more transparent about their donors. The bill did not get the 60 votes it needed to overcome a Republican filibuster on July 16.
One of the senators who didn’t support the bill was John McCain, a sponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that Citizens United partially overturned. McCain told Whitehouse he wouldn’t support the DISCLOSE Act because it had a special exemption for unions, which Whitehouse said was not true.
Whitehouse vowed not to give up on the Senate, urging listeners to make Citizens United a bigger issue in local elections. He also called on the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission to more closely monitor some of the special interests groups that the DISCLOSE Act would have targeted. He also called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to require more companies to disclose where their money is going in politics.
Whitehouse also suggested that, if investors and state pension funds vowed not to invest in public companies that contributed to special interest groups, they could have the same dampening economic impact that the boycott of apartheid South Africa had.
“All around the world, people’s hopes and aspirations and expectations for what government can be like have been lifted because America has set that kind of example,” he said. “If we evolve back to a point where secret money and special influences that are not publicly disclosed are driving our politics, we’re taking a very long step back in what has been a march towards progress. We don’t only take ourselves back when we do it -- we take really the rest of an aspiring world back with us.”
Some Democrats have proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, which Whitehouse called a “long and arduous process.” Still, he said persistence would eventually pay off, and called on voters to adhere to his “Jericho principle,” which holds that enough noise on an issue will force action.
“They can’t hold out for long if this becomes a major issue,” he said.