Majority of Legislators in Each Chamber Urge Action Undoing Citizens United Decision

Delaware legislators ask Congressional Delegation to support constitutional amendment reversing U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision

DOVER – Decrying the toxic atmosphere that unlimited special interest money has created in elections throughout the country, a bipartisan coalition of 35 Delaware General Assembly members sent a letter Monday asking Delaware’s Congressional Delegation to support a constitutional amendment undoing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.

“There is no more critical foundation to our government than citizens’ confidence in fair and free elections,” the letter states. “The Citizens United decision directly undermines this confidence, and was issued in the absence of any evidence or searching inquiry to refute the fair assumption that unbridled and opaque spending in politics harms American democracy. … The United States of America’s elections should not be permitted to go to the highest bidder, and yet this is the risk that rises from the ashes of the Citizens United decision.”

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. The decision declared that corporations enjoy the First Amendment political rights of the people, toppling dozens of state and federal laws and two decades of judicial precedents allowing the regulation of direct corporate expenditures related to political campaigns.

“As members of the Delaware General Assembly, we sharply disagree with the narrow majority decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and call upon our United States Congress to propose and send to the states for ratification as soon as is practical a constitutional amendment that reverses this decision,” the letter states, “and that makes clear the right of our elected representatives and the American people to be steadfast in pursuit of fair elections and democratic sovereignty.”

The letter was co-authored by two Newark-area legislators, Sen. Bryan Townsend and Rep. Paul Baumbach. The two lawmakers said that unlimited contributions have polluted national politics and is trickling into Delaware elections, which could undermine the First State’s long history of local, grassroots campaigns in which candidates meet voters face-to-face and ask for their vote rather than dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into races.

“Many saw this train coming down the tracks when the Supreme Court made its ruling, that special interest money would flood races and turn them into negative, toxic affairs,” said Rep. Baumbach, D-Newark. “Citizens United has opened the door to deep-pocketed donors picking key races, opening their checkbooks and flooding a race with special interest money rather than two candidates competing against each other.

“We’re already seeing this in Delaware, with third-party groups with nebulous-sounding names mailing literature and taking out TV and radio ads against candidates. This is not Delaware politics, and we should not tolerate the continuation of this practice.”

A majority of legislators in each chamber signed on to the letter. The bipartisan support for the letter echoes the strong support shown in poll after poll by Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike for an amendment overturning Citizens United.

“This is an issue that crosses party lines,” said Sen. Townsend, D-Newark/Bear. “This goes to heart of our democracy. American values mandate free and fair elections, with outcomes determined by the votes of living, breathing individuals. Citizens United threatens this fundamental American framework, by legally blessing a system of anonymized financing in which corporate money can too easily reign supreme. Today we say, forcefully and vociferously, across party lines, that corporations should not possess the same First Amendment rights as the American people within the context of our democratic elections.”

According to the Federal Election Commission, more than 700 Super PACs – officially known as Independent Expenditure-Only Committees – made an independent expenditure or filed a statement with the commission. Many of them are familiar to those who follow politics, such as American Crossroads, Priorities USA Action and Restore our Future. Others make it clear whom or what they support or oppose based on their names, including A Cantor Out of Tune, Stop Public Unions Now and Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy.

In Delaware, there are four Super PACs, ChristinePAC, FIRSTPAC for Political Freedom, Economic Strategy Group and Renew Delaware, with their statements of organization reading that each “intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts.”

To date, 14 other states have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United, as have Washington, D.C. and nearly 500 municipalities including Newark.

“The Constitution must be amended to make clear the authority of our Congress to regulate expenditures related to political campaigns in a manner consistent not only with principles of freedom and democracy but also with verified facts and outcomes in a quickly-changing, technology-driven world,” the letter states.