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Nolan unveils bill to overturn Citizens United

Rick Nolan

Newly elected U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said Monday he is introducing a constitutional amendment that would overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case that removed most limits on corporate spending in elections.

The amendment states that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as people and that political expenditures are not the same thing as free speech. Nolan, D-Minn., had long vowed to make the campaign reform bill his first as congressman for Northeastern Minnesota's 8th Congressional District.

"It's time to take the shaping and molding of public policy out of corporate boardrooms, away from the corporate lobbyists, and put it back in city halls, back with county boards and state legislatures and back in the Congress where it belongs," Nolan said in a statement released Monday.

Nolan said he doesn't expect the bill to pass the Republican-controlled House or even the Democratic Senate, at least not this year. Republicans have opposed the changes.

"But that doesn't mean I don't try. You have to put it out there," Nolan said in a Jan. 11 interview with the News Tribune, saying campaigns should be ridded of the "negative outside money" the Citizens United decision allows.

Colorado and Montana residents already have voted by 3-to-1 margins to overturn Citizens United, and a bill is awaiting action in the Minnesota Legislature calling for the amendment.

Nolan unveiled the proposal on Monday along with members of Move to Amend, an activist group trying to spur a state-by-state movement to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision that has given corporations and political action committees, including unions, the same rights as people to spend money as free speech. The group says campaign spending should not be a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

"Today, members of Congress join a movement that insists on the fundamental equality of all Americans, and that rejects the idea that the corporate class should have special protections," said Ben Mansi, a spokesman for Move to Amend, in a statement announcing the introduction.

Supporters of the Citizens United decision say it upholds the First Amendment right of free speech, that the money spent guarantees a voice in an election.

It's the first major legislation introduced by Nolan, who won election in November over one-term Republican Chip Cravaack in a race that saw ample outside money spent on both sides.

Nolan also told the News Tribune last month that he hopes to also move to limit campaign spending and the length of federal elections and that he backs publicly funded elections to limit campaign spending.

"We can't govern well when we have 24/7 elections going on," Nolan said.

Nolan's amendment legislation faces a huge uphill battle. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve a joint resolution amending the Constitution. Amendments then are sent directly to the states, without need for the president's signature, for ratification by three-fourths of all state legislatures.

Two-thirds of the state legislatures could ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments, but this has never happened.

Of the hundreds of proposals that have been made to amend the Constitution, only 33 obtained the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress. Of those 33, only 27 amendments, including the Bill of Rights, have been ratified.

The group Move to Amend posted this wording for the proposed amendment on their website:

Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]

The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]

Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate's own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.