WASHINGTON — Even U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said he doesn’t expect Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United this session, but he’s going to try doing so anyway.
Nolan, a Democrat, will introduce a resolution calling for such an amendment on Tuesday. The language of the proposed amendment would narrow the protections of the Constitution to individuals only and give lawmakers the power to regulate spending and fundraising connected to campaigns and elections (formal language is here).
By Nolan’s count, the amendment will be one of nearly 100 bills or resolutions introduced by members of Congress since 2010 seeking to overturn or whittle away at the Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited political contributions from corporations and labor unions and brought about the rise of deep-pocketed super-PACs. But Nolan said he has no illusions Congress will get around to passing anything along those lines any time soon.
“I have every confidence that, whether or not this resolution can be passed during this particular Congress, I have no doubt that it ultimately will be passed,” he said at a Monday press conference. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it took five, 10 years.”
Ben Manski, a spokesman for the group Move to Amend, agreed with Nolan. He said the group, which backs Nolan’s amendment, said is focused on building public support and pressuring Congress to move on campaign finance reforms in the future.
Activists founded Move to Amend in 2009, as the Supreme Court was considering Citizens United. The day the decision came down, they launched a campaign to overturn it.
This is the first time Move to Amend has endorsed legislation on the national level. Manski called it the “north star for the movement,” and said the group is willing to work “for five years, for 10 years, however long it takes” to pass new campaign finance measures.
“We are working to build a movement capable of compelling Congress to act,” he said. “We are creating the public power, the pressure, that they will not have the choice to do anything else.”
There are, of course, significant hurdles to passing such an amendment. Republicans oppose overturning Citizens United, and they’ve blocked two attempts in the Senate to pass a law requiring more disclosure from super-PACs that accept corporate or union donations. The House, with its GOP majority, hasn’t considered such legislation.
Constitutional amendments require two-thirds support from members of the House and Senate, and then ratification from three-fourths of state legislatures around the country. Alternatively, two-thirds of state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention, but that’s never happened. State Sen. John Marty has filed a bill in the Minnesota Legislature calling for such a convention if Congress doesn’t move forward with an amendment.
Republicans have opposed amendments with language similar to Nolan’s, saying the first section (which reads, “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only”) could be interpreted as stripping away rights for companies and organizations that wouldn’t fall under the category of political speech. Nolan’s office said there would have to be accommodating statutory changes preserving those rights before an amendment like this takes effect.
Good government groups say something must be done to limit outside money in campaigns. Outside groups spent more than $1.3 billion on federal races during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center on Responsive Politics. Nolan’s race in the 8th District was one of the most expensive House contests in the country — groups spent $9.3 million there alone (though not all of that came from super-PACs).
Nolan has long said he would work on campaign finance reform during his second tenure in the House. The constitutional amendment resolution will be his first piece of legislation this session.
“Clearly, the need for fundamental change has never been more apparent than what it is today,” Nolan said.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry