Since Citizens United, there have been many different amendment proposals to reform our campaign finance laws. While all are written with the best of intentions, if we are truly going to get big money out of politics we must unite behind the best amendment proposal. We believe that is the Restore Democracy Amendment, which was carefully crafted in order to be clear, powerful, and passable. But we want to give you a chance to compare some other prominent amendment proposals as well.
For each proposal below, we provide the text and ask five critical questions so that you can understand each different amendment’s strengths and weaknesses. We also have a condensed version of the same information in our Amendment Comparisons Chart.
- Democracy for All Amendment
- Wolf Pac’s Language
- Move to Amend’s We The People Amendment
- Bernie Sanders’ Proposed Amendment
- Restore Democracy Amendment
Democracy for All Amendment
The Democracy for All Amendment is one of the more prominent amendment proposals in Congress. It was introduced by Senator Tom Udall in the Senate and Representative Theodore Deutch in the House.
SECTION 1. To advance democratic self-government and political equality for all, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.
SECTION 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.
SECTION 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.
1) Does it guarantee any specific reforms? No. Rather than promising any specific reforms such as placing limits on spending by corporations or unions, the Democracy for All Amendment would only make it possible to enact specific reforms at some unspecified date in the future.
The Democracy for All Amendment requires an unnecessary extra step. In order to enact any desired reform such as overturning Citizens United, not only would we have to pass the Democracy for All Amendment, but Congress and state legislatures would then have to pass additional legislation to place limitations on corporations and unions. As a result, there is no guarantee what impact the Democracy for All Amendment will have because it depends on Congress and legislatures to take additional action.
2) Does it overturn Citizens United? No. The Democracy for All Amendment would make it possible to overturn Citizens United, but it does not provide any guarantees.
3) Does it shift power from the Supreme Court back to We The People? Yes. The first two sections of the Democracy for All amendment are designed to allow Congress and the states to enact meaningful campaign finance reforms without the Supreme Court preventing those reforms from being enforced. That is the amendment’s greatest strength.
4) Does it appeal to both Democrats and Republicans? Somewhat. Because the Democracy for Amendment does not single out corporations or unions it has more bipartisan appeal than other proposals.
5) Can it actually pass? Possibly. The Democracy for All amendment has already gained some supporters in Congress and it may be clear enough to succeed. The question is, do we really want it to?
If we are going to make the effort to pass a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, it seems awfully timid to choose the Democracy for All Amendment, which provides no assurance that troubling Supreme Court decisions like Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, or McCutcheon v. FEC will be effectively overturned. The amendment’s lack of guaranteed reforms makes it passable, but it also minimizes its impact to the point that even if it passes it may not do enough to address our urgent campaign finance problems.
Wolf PAC’s Language*
Wolf PAC is a political action committee that is attempting to pass an amendment by getting states to call for an Article V convention. If 34 states call for the same constitutional convention, a convention will occur where an amendment or amendments can be proposed. The language Wolf PAC has used most recently calls for…
“A convention to propose amendments in order to address concerns such as those raised by the decision of the United states Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and related cases and events, including those occurring long before or afterward, or for a substantially similar purpose, and desires that the convention should be so limited.”
1) Does it guarantee any specific reforms? No. Wolf PAC’s language does not offer a specific amendment proposal. Instead, the language calls for a constitutional convention where amendments to address problems caused by big money in politics can be proposed. Because the language regarding “related cases and events, including those occurring long before or afterward” Citizens United is somewhat vague, there is simply no way to know what proposals would emerge from a convention based on Wolf PAC’s language.
2) Does it overturn Citizens United? No. Because Wolf PAC does not actually have any specific amendment language, there is no way of knowing whether or not a convention called based on that language would successfully overturn Citizens United.
3) Does it shift power from the Supreme Court back to We The People? No. Wolf PAC’s approach of calling for a constitutional convention without proposing any specific amendments creates the potential for anything but promises nothing.
4) Does it appeal to both Democrats and Republicans? Somewhat. Because Wolf PAC is calling for a convention rather than offering a specific proposal, their language almost functions as a Rorschach test–both Democrats and Republicans can project their hopes onto the language. On the other hand, because the language is uncertain, Democrats and Republicans can also both fear the worst.
Republicans may be afraid that a convention based on this language will empower unions while stripping away all corporate constitutional rights. Democrats may fear that because the language does not guarantee any specific reforms it will not lead to the significant changes we need. Taken together, the language can inspire hope and induce fear on both sides of the aisle.
5) Can it actually pass? Because Wolf PAC does not offer a concrete amendment proposal to analyze, there is no way to speculate on its chances of success. In terms of Wolf PAC’s ability to call for the convention they are seeking, it is very unlikely that they will succeed. In order for an Article V convention to occur, 34 states must make the convention call, which has never happened in American history.
In over five years Wolf PAC has only gotten give states to support their legislation, putting us on pace for the convention to occur in 2045. In addition, most state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, who have traditionally been less supportive of getting big money out of politics than Democrats. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the requisite 34 states would call for the convention before campaign finance reform is achieved through other means.
In addition, even Wolf PAC’s successful convention calls are somewhat muddled by another problem…
* Wolf PAC Has Used Different Language in Different States
In its effort to get states to call for a constitutional convention, Wolf PAC has used at least four different proposals in different states. The language above was used in Illinois while entirely different language was used in California, Vermont, and New Jersey. That discrepancy poses a challenge because in order to call for a constitutional convention limited to a specific purpose, the requisite 34 states must call for the same convention.
For example, if 34 states called for a convention to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, there would be a convention to pass that amendment. But if 30 states make convention calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment and 5 states call for an Equal Rights Amendment, no convention would occur because disparate calls cannot be counted together. So…even though Wolf PAC has gotten a few states to call for a constitutional convention, because those states have used different language, they are not necessarily united in a call for the same constitutional convention; there is a strong argument that they have called for four entirely separate conventions. That is something Wolf PAC will need to address if they continue to move forward without a concrete amendment proposal.
Move to Amend’s We The People Amendment
Move to Amend is a national organization that is focused not only on getting big money out of politics, but on ending corporate personhood. They have been particularly effective with resolutions at the local level. Their amendment proposal is below.
Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]
Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
1) Does it guarantee any specific reforms? That is a difficult question. More than any other amendment proposal on this page, the The We The People Amendment promises significant changes. But because the impact of those changes is hard to understand, it is impossible to say what specific reforms would result from the We The People Amendment.
For example, Move to Amend’s proposal states that only natural persons have constitutional rights, which means that corporations, unions, and any other artificial entities would not. So what is the impact of stripping all artificial entities of their constitutional rights? Does that mean that every constitutional protection unions or corporations have gained would suddenly evaporate? If nonprofit corporations or unions no longer have constitutional rights, can they still endorse political candidates, own property, or sign contracts? Would Supreme Court decisions that expanded the constitutional rights of artificial entities be reversed by the We The People Amendment? There are no easy answers.
The second section of the amendment titled Money is Not Free Speech also raises questions about what specific reforms it would create. “Access” and “influence” come in many forms so what does it mean if “no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or ballot measure?”
If a wealthy individual is retired and has more free time to volunteer on a political campaign than a single parent who works two jobs, doesn’t the wealthy individual have substantially more influence as a result of their money? If one person can afford to fly to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and another cannot, doesn’t the first person have substantially more access as a result of their money? Would the We The People Amendment try to prevent those inequalities somehow?
As you can see, although the text of the We The People Amendment promises sweeping changes, it also creates a lot of questions. For that reason, the amendment does not necessarily guarantee specific reforms.
2) Does it overturn Citizens United? Yes. The language that strips away constitutional rights from corporations and unions would almost certainly overturn Citizens United, which is a point in its favor.
3) Does it shift power from the Supreme Court back to We The People? Yes, the second section of the amendment is clearly aimed at Buckley and attempts to prevent the Supreme Court from thwarting our campaign finance reform efforts. On the other hand, because the amendment proposes immense changes to the entire body of constitutional law and introduces nebulous new concepts of “access” and “influence” that may ultimately be defined by the Supreme Court, one can argue that the amendment actually gives the Court some additional influence over our campaign finance laws.
4) Does it appeal to both Democrats and Republicans? Probably not. Though the We The People Amendment would apply to both corporations and unions, most Republicans and a sizable share of Democrats are unlikely to support a proposal that eliminates all corporate constitutional rights. Though attempting to address problems caused by corporate personhood is a worthwhile goal, getting big money out of politics and stripping away the constitutional rights of every entity other than natural persons are separate issues. By attempting to tackle both with one amendment, Move to Amend is alienating many potential allies who may support the amendment in part, but not in its entirety.
5) Can it actually pass? Probably not. The We The People Amendment takes on issues that are far beyond the scope of getting big money out of politics. Its ambition is laudable but its alternatively sweeping and vague language makes the amendment an easy target for opponents.
Bernie Sanders’ Proposed Amendment
“section 1. Whereas the right to vote in public elections belongs only to natural persons as citizens of the United States, so shall the ability to make contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections belong only to natural persons in accordance with this Article.
“section 2. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power of Congress and the States to protect the integrity and fairness of the electoral process, limit the corrupting influence of private wealth in public elections, and guarantee the dependence of elected officials on the people alone by taking actions which may include the establishment of systems of public financing for elections, the imposition of requirements to ensure the disclosure of contributions and expenditures made to influence the outcome of a public election by candidates, individuals, and associations of individuals, and the imposition of content neutral limitations on all such contributions and expenditures.
“section 3. Nothing in this Article shall be construed to alter the freedom of the press.
“section 4. Congress and the States shall have the power to enforce this Article through appropriate legislation.”
1) Does it guarantee any specific reforms? Somewhat. The first section Sanders’ amendment proposal is similar to the first section of the We The People Amendment because it would drastically limit the political power of all artificial entities including corporations and unions. The proposal would absolutely lead to some specific reforms. But at this stage there is just no way to know exactly what those reforms would look like.
For example, since political parties are not natural born persons, under Sanders’ proposal would political parties be allowed to send mailers to registered voters, publish information on their website, or even have a convention to nominate a presidential candidate since each of those activities are clearly expenditures that influence the outcome of public elections? If a nonprofit organization spends $50 to distribute flyers urging people to Vote For Candidate X would those funds count as an expenditure to influence the outcome of public elections? Due to the sheer number of entities affected by Sanders’ proposal and the vagueness of the phrase “expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections” it is difficult to say exactly what the Sanders amendment would prohibit and what it would allow.
2) Does it overturn Citizens United? Yes. By preventing artificial entities to spend money to influence elections Sanders’ proposal would effectively overturn Citizens United.
3) Does it shift power from the Supreme Court back to We The People? Yes, the second section of the proposal addresses the fundamental problem of allowing nine unelected Supreme Court Justices to decide our campaign finance laws. Sanders’ proposal attempts to return power to We The People and that is a that is a strong point in its favor.
4) Does it appeal to both Democrats and Republicans? Maybe. Sanders’ proposal is an equal opportunity offender because it goes after all entities, not just corporations. In that sense the proposal does not play favorites and should have some bipartisan appeal.
5) Can it actually pass? Probably not. Though Sanders’ proposed amendment has many strengths, it faces similar challenges to the We The People Amendment and the vague language in its first section will likely prevent it from making meaningful progress.
Restore Democracy Amendment
“No corporation, limited liability company, partnership, other business entity, or labor union, may contribute general treasury funds to a candidate for elected office, use general treasury funds to make expenditures advocating for the election or defeat of such a candidate, or contribute general treasury funds to any entity that engages in such advocacy.
For the purposes of this Article general treasury funds shall mean all funds other than those funds contributed by natural persons to a corporation, limited liability company, partnership, other business entity, or labor union for the expressed purpose of legislative or political advocacy.
With respect to Federal elections, nothing in this Constitution shall prevent Congress from placing limits on the contributions made to a candidate for elected office, on expenditures advocating for or against any such candidate, and on a candidate’s own expenditures.
With respect to State elections, nothing in this Constitution shall prevent States from placing limits on the contributions made to a candidate for elected office, on expenditures advocating for or against any such candidate, on a candidate’s own expenditures, and on expenditures advocating for or against any ballot initiative or referendum.
Nothing contained in this article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.”
1) Does it guarantee any specific reforms? Yes. If passed, the Restore Democracy Amendment would ensure that corporations and unions can no longer use their general treasury funds for contributions to candidates or independent expenditures in support of or in opposition to a candidate for elected office. Unlike other proposals that do not offer a specific amendment or require an extra step after ratification, the Restore Democracy Amendment contains language that guarantees concrete reform immediately. The day it is ratified is the same day we push corporate and union money to the sidelines.
2) Does it overturn Citizens United? Yes. By placing the limits on corporate and union general treasury funds as described above, the amendment effectively overturns the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. However, the Restore Democracy Amendment is also noteworthy for refraining to go so far that it invites unintended consequences and turns off potential supporters.
Other proposed amendments that attempt to strip constitutional rights from all artificial entities or prevent them from spending any money that could even influence an election, while well meaning, are problematic because their vast scope limits their appeal. Approximately 80 percent of Americans support getting big money out of politics but not nearly as many citizens share the same enthusiasm for taking away rights from unions or nonprofit corporations. In addition, many Republican legislators who want to overturn Citizens United are fervently opposed to ending corporate personhood. As a result, amendments that go farther than necessary risk turning potential allies into opponents.
3) Does it shift power from the Supreme Court back to We The People? Yes. Our campaign finance problems did not begin or end with Citizens United. They started before and continued after because of a larger underlying problem: that nine unelected justices on the Supreme Court, rather than We The People, get to decide our campaign finance laws.The Restore Democracy Amendment addresses that problem by empowering Congress and the States to enact meaningful campaign finance reform without the Supreme Court preventing those reforms from being enforced.
4) Does it appeal to both Democrats and Republicans? Yes. By recognizing that both corporations and unions pose a threat to the integrity of our democracy and by not seeking to abolish corporate personhood, the Restore Democracy Amendment is something that members of both major parties can support.
5) Can it actually pass? If we are going to pass a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, the Restore Democracy Amendment is our best bet. It is the only proposal that would overturn Citizens United and shift power from the Supreme Court back to We The People while not being fatally vague or divisive. The amendment is concrete, clear, and has bipartisan appeal. We believe the Restore Democracy Amendment strikes the right balance and therefore, it is the amendment that offers the greatest chance of success.
Though there are many different amendment proposals out there, we believe that only the Restore Democracy Amendment is powerful enough to make a meaningful impact, clear enough to avoid a bevy of unintended consequences, and passable enough to actually succeed. But we need your help to make that happen. Now that you’ve seen why the Restore Democracy Amendment is worthy of your support please visit our volunteer page to see how you can take action and make a donation so we can keep moving forward!