Lawmakers Fight Money in Politics

Rep. Keith Ellison pushes back on Citizens United and rips attacks from Rep. Allen West.

Rep. Keith Ellison with other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus(Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

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KE: The declaration would not be the language offered as the constitutional amendment. What the declaration says is, “We declare our support for amending the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people, undermined by Citizens United and related cases, to protect the integrity of elections and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.”

This is language that all of us agree to, that all of us can galvanize behind — members of Congress, members of city councils, community activists from groups like Move to Amend, Public Citizen, People for the American Way and others. We said, “Why waste time arguing about the fine points of what the language of a constitutional amendment should be, when we don’t even have a public movement to drive it?” We need to get the wind behind our back first, and then, once we have a Congress who can move it, and states that would be willing to do it, then we can fight over exactly where the periods and the commas go. But right now we need a mass action.

TR: Are there individual reforms that you would like to see made to campaign financing, besides reversing Citizens United? After all, before that ruling, there was already plenty of money in politics.

KE: There are tons of things I’d like to see. I wish we could publicly finance every campaign. I wish we had ranked-choice voting. I wish we had a limit on how long election season can go so that we don’t have to inundate voters with this stuff for three years in advance of a presidential election. So there’s no shortage [of ideas] — we got that.

What we lack is a mass movement that the average citizen can connect to and therefore make demands on their public leaders. The missing piece of the puzzle is that you’ve got a middle-class family that wants access to a doctor; you’ve got somebody with credit companies hounding them for student debt they acquired 20 years ago; you’ve got somebody who can’t find a consumer advocate to help them understand their mortgage. The source of all these problems is money in politics.

People with money can populate Congress with people who are favorable to them through campaign donations, through independent expenditures. Once they get the people they want there, they can pay to lobby Congress to make sure that the people they put there do what they want them to do. And where are the American people’s voices in all of that? They’re lost.

TR: There’s an argument that unions have profited from Citizens United, too.