Schiff proposes constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United decision

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban on direct corporate and union political spending, giving rise to the so-called “super PACs.”

Schiff’s amendment, announced Thursday, would also overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, which struck down a law permitting public financing of a candidate when their opponent broke certain spending limits.

Schiff said he knew the obstacles facing a constitutional amendment, which must be passed by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.

“It should be very difficult to amend the Constitution, and if I didn’t think this is the most significant threat to the health of our democracy in a generation, I wouldn’t say it was worth doing, but it is,” he said.

Super PACs, a type of political action committee, may not make contributions to candidates directly, but may spend as much as they want independently of their campaigns. Unlike traditional PACs, there are no limits on the size of donations they can receive from individuals, corporations or unions.

In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that donations from corporations and unions were protected under the 1st Amendment as political speech.

Schiff said he hoped his amendment would help generate a strong push in public opinion for more campaign finance reform, even if the amendment itself isn’t passed right away.

“I hope the growing momentum in favor of a constitutional amendment will encourage the passage of disclosure laws,” he said. “A lot of companies have said if they had to disclose what they were doing they wouldn’t do it.”

The amendment states that Congress and individual states will not be forbidden from imposing “reasonable content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent election expenditures.”

Schiff said it was important that voters know who was supporting candidates and ballot measures, and to hold candidates accountable for the advertising that was run on their behalf.

Schiff was joined by 14 other House colleagues in putting forth the legislation he drafted with Harvard Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe last year.

-- Daniel Siegal, Times Community News

Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal


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