Senate Joint Resolution 19 seeks to send political speech back into the stone age.
Congress is back in Washington, and Senate Democrats have wasted no time in bringing forward their proposal for a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the right to set limits on how much money can be raised for and spent in federal political campaigns.
Senate Joint Resolution 19 is sponsored by Tom Udall (D-NM) and has gained the vocal support of powerful Democrats like Elizabeth Warren, Patrick Leahy, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and Majority Leader Harry Reid. Its three sections would drastically affect both freedom of speech and freedom of association in America:
Section 1. To advance democratic self-government and political
equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral
process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits
on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to
Section 2. Congress and the States shall have power to implement
and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may
distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other
artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such
entities from spending money to influence elections.
Section 3. Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant
Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the
In his first floor speech following the August recess, Majority Leader Reid made it clear that he’s willing to once again prevent Republicans from having a voice in the Senate—ironic considering he’s advocating the muzzling of voters via Congressional fiat:
The American people reject the notion that money gives billionaires, corporations, or special interests a greater voice in government than our own voice—the voice of voters. The American voter believes, as I do, that the Constitution doesn’t give corporations a vote and it doesn’t give them…extra votes. The only people who don’t see it that way are the Republicans here in congress. They see money as speech.
There will be no amendments. It is not a difficult issue. Either you’re for campaign spending reform or you’re not. My Republican colleagues, they can stall for time here. Were’ going to be very patient… I’m going to move this legislation forward regardless of any republican obstruction because this issue is important.
It’s interesting that Senator Reid should go to such great lengths to expose “Republican obstructionism,” considering that as far back as January of 2014 even the New York Times was forced to admit that his handling of the Senate calendar has left little room for Republicans to offer amendments to Democrat-sponsored legislation.
Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) took Reid and Durbin to task over their efforts to extend big government control over free political speech:
[t]he Majority Leader in his wisdom has decided to bring up this amendment, because he thinks the most urgent order of business is to replace the current First Amendment – which has stood the test of time for all these many years since our country’s founding – and replace it with one that empowers incumbent politicians to control who has access to the resources in order to get their message out…it’s painfully clear that the Majority Leader’s priorities have everything to do with November the 4th.
The Senate voted 79-18 to move forward with SJR 19, and the chamber is now allowed 30 hours total of debate on the resolution before it comes up for a final vote. This means that Republicans have the opportunity to speak out in favor of the First Amendment—and put pressure on Dems (especially red state Democrats in danger of losing in November) to take a stand either for or against free speech less than 60 days out from the election.
Because SJR 19 proposes a Constitutional amendment, Harry Reid needs a supermajority to sent it over to the House; most Republicans are expected to oppose the measure on a final vote, which means that the procedural strategy we’re seeing here is setting up a major loss for Reid and red state Democrats, and a huge messaging win for Republicans.