Two years after the court drastically altered the landscape of campaign finance rules with its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, some legislators are still trying to write new disclosure laws that comport with the ruling. Separately, a handful of senators are seeking to draw more attention to their proposed constitutional amendment explicitly allowing Congress to regulate campaign funding.
Another 2010 decision,
Skilling v. United States
, is also still reverberating in the Capitol. With the ruling having gutted an oft-used tool for prosecuting federal corruption cases, the House and Senate split last week on whether new anti-bribery language should be included in the STOCK Act, which seeks to ban insider trading by members.
It is common for justices to irritate some percentage of their counterparts across the East Front Plaza, but the stakes may be higher now as the court prepares to hear oral arguments next month on the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care law. However that ruling comes down, one side or the other will surely be incensed and immediately look for ways to get around it.
A common theme for congressional critics of the court is that the nine justices don’t live in the real world, particularly when it comes to modern politics.
“I’m not sure they grasped the practical effects of the decision they were rendering,” Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), a co-sponsor of the constitutional amendment on campaign finance, suggested last week.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the amendment’s lead author, complained: “None of the Supreme Court justices have run for office in this system. I don’t think they understand.”
Their amendment says that “Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to Federal elections,” including the ability to place limits on campaign donations and expenditures, while states would have the same authority to regulate the funding of state elections.
“This is saying to the court: ‘We are going to regulate and legislate on campaign finance. We are taking it back,’ ” Udall said.
The bar for constitutional amendments is high. If Udall’s measure achieves the unlikely feat of two-thirds support in the House and Senate, it still would have to clear three-fourths of state legislatures. Yet even an unsuccessful amendment can help draw attention to an issue.
“I don’t expect the efforts to bear fruit, but I do think they serve other purposes,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California Irvine School of Law.
More modestly, a group of Democrats last week unveiled a new version of a bill, the DISCLOSE Act, which would require immediate disclosure of campaign spending by corporations and unions as well as “super PACs” — the controversial spawn of the Citizens United decision.