9/09/2014 — 

SENATE FLOOR STATEMENT

Mr. REED. Mr. President, I rise today, as I have for many years, to urge my colleagues to fix our Nation's broken campaign finance system. I do so after much deliberation and consideration of a series of Supreme Court decisions and the explosion of undisclosed and potentially unlimited campaign spending that has Americans of all political backgrounds concerned. Indeed, I remember when this was an issue that brought Republicans and Democrats together, and I was proud to support Senator McCain's efforts at campaign finance reform.

   Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court decisions, such as Citizens United and McCutcheon, have given more than the mere appearance that money--and corporate money at that--has a louder voice than everyday Americans. Indeed, Justice Breyer wrote in his McCutcheon dissent that ``taken together with Citizens United ..... [McCutcheon] eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.'' In my view, these misguided decisions by a slim majority of the Court have allowed spending on political campaigns to get out of control.

   There is a pervasive and corrosive view of politics felt by too many in this country that their ability to express their concerns and wishes to their elected officials is being crowded out by narrow interests and campaign funds. Rhode Islanders don't want their voices drowned out by unlimited money with little or no transparency or no disclosure on where that money comes from.

   In order to have a broad-based democratic system, we need reasonable campaign finance laws which ensure that those with large financial resources cannot drown out the voice of everyday Americans. That is what this constitutional amendment we are seeking to debate is all about.

   The system is broken, and as much as individual candidates can pledge to provide more disclosure or take other steps to increase transparency, that is not the solution to fixing the problem. We need to give Congress and the States the ability to set reasonable rules for all candidates.

   The constitutional amendment we are considering today does three straightforward things:

   First, in order to advance democratic self-governance and political equality, it gives Congress and the States the power to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

   Second, it grants Congress and States the power to enforce the amendment and to distinguish between people and corporations or other artificial entities.

   Third, it ensures that nothing in the amendment could be used to abridge the freedom of the press.

   This amendment doesn't create any new and specific campaign finance rules; rather, it gives Congress and the States the power to pass legislation and to distinguish between real people and legally created artificial entities, such as corporations. Whatever legislation that would be enacted pursuant to this constitutional amendment would be the result of a serious and lengthy debate in Congress and in the States. I welcome that debate, and I believe most Americans want that debate as well. It would begin a process that is so necessary to rebuild a sense of trust in our government and our electoral system.

   I urge my colleagues to support this constitutional amendment to fix our broken campaign finance system by giving Congress and the States the power to reasonably regulate political spending, thereby reducing the influence of wealthy special interests. It is these same wealthy special interests that obfuscate the facts of a debate and block efforts that could give our country and our economy a shot in the arm.

   Indeed, I hope we can also find bipartisan support to give more Americans the ability to have a fair shot at success. For example, we need to make college more affordable and ease the burden of student debt on millions of Americans, invest in our infrastructure, raise the minimum wage, expand job training, close the pay gap for women, boost jobs through manufacturing--and that is just for starters.

   We need to pass these kinds of bills and send them to the House and urge them to act. The Senate was able to come together and pass a bill to provide relief to the long-term unemployed earlier this year, but with 9.6 million Americans still out of a job and looking for work--3 million of whom have been doing so for more than 6 months--House Republicans have refused to follow suit. It is imperative that we keep working to strengthen our economy, create jobs, and provide a fair shot for everyone.

   I believe fixing the campaign finance system through this constitutional amendment will provide a foundation so we can have reasonable debate that is responsive to the interests of the American people and not responsive to the interests of a narrow class of Americans.

   I urge my colleagues to take up this bill, pass it, and get on with the business of giving everyone a fair chance at success.