The Restore Democracy Amendment is the only amendment proposal that would directly overturn Citizens United while being clear enough to actually succeed. When passed, it will achieve two critical goals: 1) Undoing the damage done by Citizens United and other poorly reasoned Supreme Court decisions by limiting the political influence of corporations and unions and 2) Paving the way for additional campaign finance reforms such as publicly funded elections or various limits on campaign contributions and expenditures.
The exact language of the Restore Democracy Amendment is bolded below, followed by a detailed explanation.
“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.”
Overturning Citizens United
The first and second sentences of the Restore Democracy Amendment effectively overturns the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and significantly diminishes the power of Super PACs by limiting how corporations and unions can spend money to influence elections. The basic idea is that corporations and unions should not be able to take your money and use it to support or oppose political candidates unless that is the reason you gave the corporation or union your money in the first place. The term “general treasury funds” merits some explanation.
General treasury funds are those funds obtained or used in the ordinary course of business. If you purchase shares of stock in a corporation or buy a product directly from a corporation, those funds go into that corporation’s general treasury. Similarly, if you are a member of a union, your union dues are general treasury funds.
The Restore Democracy Amendment prevents business and unions from using those funds to advocate for or against any candidate for elected office. This prohibition will achieve two goals:
1) Diminishing Campaign Spending by Corporations and Unions
The Restore Democracy Amendment will diminish the undue influence that corporations and unions currently have over the political process. When corporations and unions have vast sums of money to spend during election cycles, legislators are increasingly beholden to them and as a result, legislatures create laws that unduly favor those entities. By preventing general treasury funds from being used to advocate for or against a candidate, the Restore Democracy Amendment will substantially limit corporate and union influence and return political power to individuals.
2) Preventing Your Money From Supporting Candidates Without Your Consent
The Restore Democracy Amendment will also protect you from having your money used for political purposes without your consent. Corporations and unions should not be able to use your money to support a specific political candidate unless that’s the reason you gave them your money in the first place. Just because you buy stock in Apple, does not necessarily mean you support the company’s political views and want them to use your money to support a specific Congressional candidate. Similarly, just because you may pay union dues does not mean you want those dues supporting a candidate in the upcoming primary election. The Restore Democracy Amendment will ensure that corporations and unions can only use money to support or oppose political candidates if that is why the money was given to them.
To be clear, the Restore Democracy Amendment would not prevent corporate entities and unions from making independent expenditures for or against a candidate from a separate segregated fund–one in which the money is obtained with explicit consent of the donor to be used for political advocacy–but such funds do not pose the kind of threat to our democracy that general treasury funds do. Furthermore, Congress and the States would be free to impose additional restrictions on separate segregated funds as they see fit.
Shifting Power Back to We The People
Whereas the first sentence of the Restore Democracy Amendment limits the political influence of corporations and unions, the next sentences address a deeper problem. For too long, Congress and state legislatures have tried to enact powerful campaign finance reforms–contribution limits, spending limits, or publicly funded elections–only to have the Supreme Court thwart those efforts with ill-conceived decisions like Citizens United or Buckley v. Valeo. We The People keep trying to pass laws to protect the integrity of our political system but nine unelected judges keep getting in our way. The Restore Democracy Amendment will shift the balance of power back to We The People.
By asserting that nothing in this Constitution shall prevent Congress and the States from placing limits on contributions or expenditures in connection with political candidates or ballot initiatives, we will reclaim our authority to pass and enforce campaign finance laws. Questions of how much money an individual can spend on an advertisement in support of a candidate or whether or not candidates should receive matching funds from their state are simply better decided by Congress and state legislatures than by the Supreme Court. That’s why the Restore Democracy Amendment will allow We The People to decide how to protect the integrity of our democracy.
Protecting the Freedom of the Press
The final sentence of the Restore Democracy Amendment protects the freedom of the press. By restricting the use of a corporation’s general treasury funds, we do not intend to prevent a newspaper from endorsing a candidate in their editorial pages or stop Saturday Night Live from poking fun at a presidential debate. The final sentence of the Restore Democracy Amendment makes it clear that the other provisions of the amendment should not apply to legitimate news gathering and dissemination.
It should be noted that critics or opponents of the Restore Democracy Amendment or similar proposals may claim that the phrase “freedom of the press” begs more questions than answers–questions like who or what constitutes “the press” and how can we be sure that the Restore Democracy Amendment won’t prevent the Wall Street Journal or The Daily Show from doing the kind of political analysis or satire they’ve always done? Staunch opponents may even suggest that those concerns are sufficient to call the entire Restore Democracy Amendment into question.
Those critics or opponents are wrong. The scope and contours of the press in America have been defined by courts, legislatures, and scholars for over two centuries and what it means to be a member of the press will continue to evolve as needed. We have enacted powerful campaign finance restrictions on corporations in the past without losing the nightly news or political cartoons as a consequence. There is no reason to believe the Restore Democracy Amendment would upset that balance.
Now that you’ve learned all about the Restore Democracy Amendment, the next step is to help us make it a reality. Please sign up to volunteer and make a donation to support our work. There is no better way to help get big money out of politics.