Harry’s Dirty Amendment

Noted liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe once described the First Amendment as the Constitution’s “most majestic guarantee,” Harry Reid, however, is not impressed.

The Senate Majority Leader is desperately trying to keep his job and maintain his “imperial” influence in the world’s erstwhile “greatest deliberative body.” Part of Reid’s strategy is to support a constitutional amendment that would obliterate the First Amendment, leaving its former liberties to the discretion of power hungry Congressional regulators.


The amendment would give Congress—one the nation’s most unpopular institutions—complete control over of the election process in the name of “political equality.” The words to this proposal are as unsurprising as they are disturbing. Congress could:  


regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections, including through setting limits on--

                        (1) the amount of contributions to candidates       for nomination for election to, or for election           to, Federal                 office; and

                    (2) the amount of funds that may be spent by,              in support of, or in opposition to such                                              candidates.


The amendment would not only overturn the despised (and misunderstood) Citizens United v. FEC but also Buckley v. Valeo and every other consequential campaign finance case in between. It would completely abolish the citizenry’s ability to speak about elections and candidates except within tightly controlled confines approved by Congress. It is in short, the Anti-First Amendment.


Though no one thinks it has any chance of ratification, its value lies in its brazen display of totalitarianism. What of liberty and freedom when one has power to amass and hold?


Reid’s boogeymen, Charles and David Koch, do speak to those American values. Reid responds by lambasting them on the Senate floor; over 130 times this year alone.


Reid couches his disdain for the Kochs as an affront to “political equality”: “Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system.” Of course, Mr. Reid himself has much more ability to “influence our political system” than the multitude of labor unions that supply his political muscle and ensure his electoral victories. One suspects he prefers it that way. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence liberal fundraising solicitations mentioning the Kochs are likely to raise three times more money than those that don’t.


Any doubts to Reid’s motives should go no further than Tom Steyer. The billionaire hedgefunder actually is trying to “buy America” or at least his preferred environmental policies. As he stated recently, green energy initiatives offer “a chance to make a lot of money.”  Of course, unlike the Kochs who principally became wealthy supplying consumers a product they want at a price they voluntarily pay, the green racket operates differently. It depends not on market forces but government ones. It depends on cronyism, backroom deals, and riders slipped in other bills with deliberately obfuscating language. In short is the stuff of the Washington trade, goodies supplied only with the blessing of people like Mr. Reid.  


Retired Justice John Paul Stevens supposedly inspired Mr. Reid to pursue this faux-quixotic amendment. The former Justice has been making the media rounds with a new book, which proposes a number of fixes for American democracy. He has one on campaign finance. In a little noticed interview, Stevens was asked if under his proposal the government could ban books containing political ideas. He looked pensively at the text—his own text—and after a moment remarked, “Perhaps you could put a limit on the times of publication or something . . . You certainly couldn’t totally prohibit writing a book.”


Feel better? Citizens United was a 5-4 decision, Justice Stevens wrote the dissent. There are many ways to describe an amendment that authorizes a limitation on printing books, “majestic” isn’t one of them.


By Paul Jossey