It's been a decade since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, paving the way for an ocean of unregulated and secretive campaign spending. Proponents of tighter restrictions had their first chance on Thursday to tell the House why amending the Constitution is the best way to reverse the multibillion-dollar trend — but the subcommittee hearing looks to be all they get for a while.
The so-called Democracy For All amendment has been introduced in the House and Senate in all six Congresses since the Supreme Court's landmark decision. Each time, Democrats have been joined by one Republican at most in backing the proposal — signaling the government is nowhere close to "overturning" Citizens United v. FEC by making the 28th constitutional alteration.
The two-hour hearing did nothing to alter that reality. In fact, the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Democrat Steve Cohen of Tennessee, said nothing about reconvening someday to hold the first necessary vote.
Tracking the story of American democracy over the past decade has been a very complex undertaking, dominated by dispiriting accelerations of dysfunction but also punctuated by some developments meriting cautious optimism.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates of money in politics, turned a blind eye to partisan gerrymandering and paved the way for dozens of measures making it harder to vote in places already marred by histories of political discrimination. Capitol Hill became more gridlocked by tribal partisan animus than ever, even when the topic was fixing the very system in which Congress is supposed to play a vibrant central role. And there's Donald Trump, who won the presidency in an election marked by unparalleled foreign interference and then took busting the norms of a democratic civil society to a whole new level.
At the same time, however, the ever more broken state of affairs in Washington was offset by successes in statehouses and city halls — and by the citizens themselves — at making democracy more equitable and productive for more people. Innovations in public financing of campaigns and election methods that reward consensus candidates were on the rise, while voting rights were returned to almost 2 million felons out of prison. Ballot initiatives and state courts moved against partisan power grabs in legislative mapmaking, allowing more people to pick their politicians, not the other way around.
Finally, the democracy reform movement itself built toward a critical mass of organizational muscle and funding strength. It even generated its own dedicated news site!
To get ready for the 2020s, when the debate over how to put the government more overtly back in the hands of the voters will be more urgent than ever, here's The Fulcrum's take on the top 10 stories about democracy's challenges from the decade now ending, in a somewhat rough chronological order.
Bill Weld is now the most prominent Republican candidate in favor of amending the Constitution in order to slow the torrent of big money in American politics.
The former Massachusetts governor is the longest of long shots as he runs against President Trump for the GOP nomination. And a constitutional alteration to permit much tighter campaign finance regulation has essentially no near-term shot of getting through Congress with the necessary two-thirds majority and then getting ratified by the required 38 states.
But those who view such a 28th Amendment as the most consequential aspiration of democracy reformers can nonetheless point to Wednesday's announcement as a symbolic milestone: The idea can now claim a measure of bipartisan support in the presidential field.
Rubens was a Republican state senator in New Hampshire from 1994 to 1998. He's a board member of American Promise, which seeks to amend the Constitution to allow tighter controls on money in politics.
This month I shared the stage at American Promise's citizen leadership conference with Rep. Jamie Raskin, a liberal Democrat from Maryland. We differ on policy, but the two of us join most every American in agreeing on this deepest fundamental: Our government must be solely accountable to the governed — we, the American people.
To this end, to protect and preserve the world's oldest democratic republic, we will break the suffocating grip of concentrated big-money. We will get a 28th Amendment added to our cherished and ever-more-perfect Constitution.
Democrats are overwhelmingly on board. Two-thirds of Republican voters are on board. Now is the time to get Republicans in Congress to join us in large numbers. To do so we must persuade their most conservative constituents. And we can do that because big-money corruption is undermining three critical conservative priorities: capitalism, low taxes and federalism.