Speed Reads

Money and politics

The Senate will debate its right to limit campaign spending

On Monday evening, the Senate voted to open debate on a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, which significantly neutered campaign finance laws. The amendment, introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), would explicitly give Congress the "power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections." The procedural vote to open debate passed 79 to 18.

That doesn't mean the constitutional amendment has much of a chance. It would need to get 60 ayes to proceed to a final vote, then require the support two-thirds of senators to pass. The House would then have to pass the amendment, also with a two-thirds majority, and three-quarters of state legislatures would need to ratify it. There's a reason there are only 27 amendments to the Constitution, out of more than 11,000 introduced in Congress.

Still, the 79-18 vote suggests this is a debate both parties are eager to have, despite the fact that the public favors the Democratic position. Democratic lawmakers typically argue that democracy is best served when there are limits to the amount of money corporations and wealthy donors can spend on elections, especially without needing to disclose the amounts and recipients; Republican lawmakers tend to agree with the five Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court that restricting campaign donations is muzzling constitutionally protected free speech.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells Talking Points Memo that "to be clear, there is zero support on our side for rewriting the First Amendment to restrict free speech." It will be interesting to watch Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), though, who was once such an advocate for limiting money in politics that his name is on one of the laws the Supreme Court has gutted.