Leahy pushes for constitutional convention on campaign finance reform


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ushered a proposal out of committee last week that would amend the U.S. Constitution and allow for limits on campaign contributions. The Judiciary Committee, of which Leahy is chair, passed the proposal, 10-8.

"Our country has flourished because we have worked hard to ensure that more, not fewer, Americans can take part in the democratic process," Leahy said in his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. "That is why common sense campaign finance laws are so vital in protecting our democratic institutions."

The proposal, Leahy spokesman David Carle said, "addresses the Supreme Court decisions that have eviscerated former campaign finance laws."

Carle said Leahy's decision to act on campaign finance reform has a long history. He referred to "the string of decisions" since 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling: A 2012 high court ruling that Montana could not limit campaign contributions and the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision in early April, in which the Supreme Court struck down biennial limits on campaign contributions.

"(Leahy) held hearings in the wake of Citizens United, and he and others have tried legislative fixes," Carle said.

Leahy held a hearing June 3 on "Examining a Constitutional Amendment to Restore Democracy to the American People." The current proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 19, was crafted by Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, and modified by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. Leahy brought the proposal to a committee vote.

Critics and supporters agree that the effort is a long shot.

The measure must be brought to the Senate floor, and passed by both chambers. Thirty-four states must then vote to hold a convention. If a convention is held, 38 states (three-quarters) must vote to approve the amendment.

In May, the Vermont Legislature became the first state to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to reverse the Supreme Court rulings that critics say allow wealthy donors to disproportionately influence American politics.

The convention would be the first since 1787.

But, Carle, said, seeds for change have to take root somewhere.

"No one gives much chance of this current Congress' approving it," Carle said. "It's a long process, but it has to start sometime. Part of this is informing the American public."

The measure, Leahy's statement emphasized, is about preserving the nation's democracy.

"When the voices of hardworking Americans continue to be drowned out by the moneyed few, and when legislative efforts to right this wrong are repeatedly filibustered by Republicans, more serious action must be taken," he said.


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