Kochs in Democrats’ Crosshairs with Proposal for Constitutional Amendment to Regulate Campaign Spending

Saturday, May 17, 2014
U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Harry Reid (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

In need of a spark to galvanize their voting base in the hopes of keeping control of the U.S. Senate, Democrats have introduced a constitutional amendment intended to rein in spending by corporations and the wealthy, particularly the conservative brothers Charles and David Koch, who give millions to right-wing causes and candidates.


The move is more political theater than anything else, given the proposed amendment stands virtually no chance of becoming law because of Republican opposition. But the introduction of constitutional amendments often serves as a means to draw attention to a political issue, and undoing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that stripped many contribution limits is a good place to start for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).


Reid has been on a political crusade lately against the Kochs, claiming their right-wing priorities backed by their wealth represent a threat to ordinary Americans. So it’s no surprise that Senate Democrats came up with the amendment proposal, which would reverse the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings that erased established federal limits on contributions by corporations, unions and the rich.


Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to conduct a hearing on the amendment on June 3. “The Court has repeatedly used the First Amendment – not to protect the voices of all Americans, but as an instrument to amplify the voices of billionaires and corporations,” Leahy said in a statement. “Those voices are not the only ones who the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to protect.  They meant for the First Amendment to protect the voices of all Americans.”


Republicans dismissed the idea. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) called it “an all-out assault on the right to free speech” and “a clear sign of just how desperate elected Washington Democrats have become in their quest to hold onto power.


Democrats argue it is the wealthy, and mainly conservatives, who represent a threat to free speech by drowning the airwaves with their advertisements promoting the candidates and issues they favor.


In the case of the Koch brothers, their political committee, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), intends to spend at least $125 million this year to influence races, according to Politico.


“The projected AFP budget would be unprecedented for a private political group in a midterm, and would probably rival the spending of the Republican and Democratic parties’ congressional campaign committee.


As for the proposed amendment, it, like so many others before it, will probably go nowhere. More than 10,000 amendments have been proposed over the past two-plus centuries, but the Constitution has been amended only 27 times since 1787.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Dems Threaten Kochs with a Constitutional Amendment (by Tom Hamburger, Washington Post)

Proposing Constitutional Amendments is Very Easy — Kind of Like Political Grandstanding (by Philip Bump, Washington Post)

Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Plans $125 Million Spending Spree (by Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico)

Koch Brothers Spent more on 2012 Election than Top 10 Unions Combined (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Big Bucks Campaign Spending Can Cause Voters to Choose Candidate Who Doesn’t Represent Their Beliefs (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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