Could Amending the Constitution Help Solve America’s Campaign Finance Problems?

Caitlin Petrie

In a recent New York Times article former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke about the Court’s recent rulings on campaign finance reform, and the negative results he sees this having on American democracy. Of course one of the rulings that Stevens is referring to is McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This ruling made it legal for anyone to donate money to any number of federal candidates around the country. This becomes very scary when you think of a rich person in Alabama, like McCutcheon, being able to fund a candidate in Washington even though he does not live there. The implications for big money controlling American politics are truly terrifying. As Stevens puts it: “The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate. It’s really wrong”.

In his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution”, Steven outlines a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would address the amount of money being funneled into American politics. According to the NYTs article: “The new amendment would override the First Amendment and allow Congress and the states to impose ‘reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.’”

In an interview with PBS News Hour promoting his new book, Stevens highlights that how we currently fund politics is very different than what our forefathers had imagined. Stevens says that the first sentence in the McCutcheon ruling is incredibly misleading. The sentence reads: “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” However, as Stevens emphasizes this ruling was not about the right of the individual to participate in democracy, but the right for the individual’s money to. One person’s money should never be more powerful than another person’s vote. In my mind amending the Constitution could be a radical first step in addressing campaign finance reform in the US.


  1. katielowell

    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited UW campus last quarter and one thing she talked about during her Q&A was how money needed to leave politics. I couldn’t agree more. I also agree in that a constitutional amendment would be an effective way to forcefully separate the two. Its inspiring and refreshing to hear a Supreme Court Justice talk about money’s negative influence in politics, but is she an anomaly? Will 2/3 of both houses of Congress ever propose and approve such an amendment? Will 3/4 of state legislators ever ratify it?

    The cynic in me wants to say no, that this many politicians will never want to get money out of politics because that means THEY are out of politics and subsequently out of a job. I find it hard to believe that people would propose to change something that they so highly benefit from.

    But the optimist in me wants to fight for a constitutional amendment because although it might be an uphill battle, its a necessary one. To do so, we need to share knowledge of campaign finance reform with the masses (maybe employing more meaningful rhetoric and less ostracizing facts) so that they can demand change from their leaders. We need to ignite outrage and activism from the grassroots, institutions, and corporations. Most importantly, I think we need to frame the issue as a bipartisan change that will benefit everybody thereby mobilizing the entire population instead of only part.

    Hopefully through these efforts the masses can live up to the standards of inspiring leaders like Justice Sotomayor and political leaders can live up to the demands of the masses.

  2. ccceprosperity

    I think that the idea of a constitutional amendment has a particularly important potential in that–unlike cases like Citizens United–a constitutional amendment for campaign finance reform would be more or less “bullet proof” from the Supreme Court, which seems to be leaning against campaign finance reform in general. Do you think that we could use Citizens United as a way to rally people around the idea of a constitutional amendment?

    Kaleigh B

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