Chris Coons

September 14th, 2012

Protecting our Constitution to preserve fair elections

Our Constitution is the foundation of our democracy and that foundation remains strong. Yet a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, known as Citizens United, allowed unlimited corporate money to flood our electoral process, corroding that foundation and posing a grave threat not only to the credibility of our elections, but to the confidence voters have in their elected representatives.

Despite my deep respect for the Supreme Court and its role in protecting and preserving our democracy, I simply do not agree with the majority of the justices’ conclusion in this case. They found that unregulated, unreported campaign donations from corporations are actually speech – meaning that corporations have the same right to spend money to influence elections as you and me. The problem, of course, is that corporations aren’t people. Corporations don’t have children or parents, they don’t have bad hair days and they can’t catch the flu.

Unregulated, anonymous spending on elections — by corporations or wealthy individuals — is damaging because it has flooded our airwaves with the type of vague, over-the-top messages that turn off so many voters from the entire process. You can vote against a candidate if you don’t like his ad, but you can’t walk into a voting booth and vote against a corporation.

Super PACs and other outside groups have spent more than $140 million in this election cycle – about twice what was spent over the same period during the last presidential election in 2008. What’s worse is that 90 percent of that outside spending has come from groups that do not reveal their funding sources. Anonymous, unlimited contributions undermine our elections by allowing the wealthiest Americans to speak louder than the rest of us.

Dirty politics are nothing new and vigorous debates around election season have been with us since the earliest days of our republic. Yet from time to time, reformers have found it necessary to take action to make our electoral process fairer, more inclusive and more transparent. For the past few decades, we were on a positive trend line in this regard, and I am deeply disappointed at the setback Citizens United represents.

Luckily, our founders foresaw challenges like these and provided a process by which we can amend our Constitution. As recently as a few years ago, I would not have expected to support a Constitutional amendment, but I believe so strongly in a fair and open electoral process that I have joined several of my Senate colleagues in sponsoring an amendment that would overturn Citizens United and restore credibility to our electoral process.

In this new Wild West of corporate spending unleashed by Citizens United, the assault of untraceable, negative ads that Delawareans are already seeing on television will only get worse before November. Reversing the Supreme Court’s decision would remove a barrier separating citizens from their elected representatives and help pave the way for real leadership and political courage in Congress.

When elections can be bought, it’s harder for the American people to get the kind of leaders we need to shake Washington out of legislative neutral and take on the serious challenges we face, like jumpstarting our economy, creating jobs and reducing our national debt and deficits.

Delawareans want to select representatives who think more about the next generation than the next election, and in order for them to do so, we have to remove the blot of Citizens United from our Constitution and restore an electoral process where everyone has a chance to speak equally – and be heard.

Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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