Tweeting to Carol Shea-Porter (IV)

A recent tweet-reply to my Congresscritter/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter:

Sorry, I know I've harped on this before. I'm going to keep harping on it as long as CSP keeps shedding crocodile tears about the First Amendment. Or until she drops her support for gutting the First Amendment. Realistically, I doubt either will happen.

Background: in her previous Congressional term, CSP was a co-sponsor of H. J. RES. 34; Bernie Sanders filed the corresponding S.J.Res.11 in the Senate, so it's sometimes referred to as the "Sanders Amendment". Its claimed purpose (deep breath now):

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people that were taken away by the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case and related decisions, to protect the integrity of our elections, and to limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.

In fact, the proposed amendment did nothing to "restore the rights of the American people". It actually opened up a gaping barn door for Congress to take away such rights.

The First Amendment begins straightforwardly: "Congress shall make no law…". The proposed amendment essentially says: "Oh, well, Congress can make some laws."

There are numerous problems with the proposed amendment, but let's just look at one: it restricts "the ability to make contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections" only to "natural persons". Even the anti-Citizens United group "Citizens Take Action" found that to be so broad as to be self-defeating (emphasis in original):

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. 

That's not really the can of worms you want to open up in your Constitution. (Not to say that "Citizens Take Action" is advocating anything better. They are not.)

The proposed amendment opens up vaguely-defined question-begging areas where "Congress and the States" can legislate: e.g., to "limit the corrupting influence of private wealth in public elections". Would legislators have to show that their speech-restricting legislation actually "limited" such influence, or is it good enough to claim that it would? Your guess is as good as, or perhaps better than, mine.

And let's be clear: the bottom line here is allowing legislatures to suppress political advocacy using either criminal or civil penalties.

No doubt CSP likes this approach because she imagines she'll wield this newfound legislative power for Good. Perhaps she imagines, eventually, putting the Koch brothers in jail for their dreadful habit of advocating for candidates favoring free market capitalism.

But in fact, this and other proposed speech-eroding amendments grant powers too dangerous to give to any politician, Republican or Democrat. If CSP doesn't get this, she doesn't deserve to be anywhere near the levers of political power.

Last Modified 2018-12-25 10:39 AM EDT