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Dems threaten Kochs with a constitutional amendment

David Koch (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File) David Koch (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

Congressional Democrats escalated their fight against the Koch Brothers and other megadonors to political campaigns on Thursday, calling anew for a constitutional amendment to reverse recent Supreme Court campaign-finance decisions and setting a date for a hearing.

Majority Leader Harry Reid announced plans Thursday to hold floor votes on legislation that would “grant Congress the authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns.”

The idea was blasted immediately by Republicans, underlining how unlikely it is that the proposal could succeed. The amendment idea was first introduced by Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico.  After Reid’s announcement, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont announced there would be a hearing on the legislation on June 3.

The announcements follows the court’s  recent McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision, which declared aggregate limits on campaign contributions in elections to be unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. Coupled with the Citizens United decision of 2010, Leahy and Reid said Congress must respond.

“The Court has repeatedly used the First Amendment – not to protect the voices of all Americans, but as an instrument to amplify the voices of billionaires and corporations,” Leahy said in a statement Thursday. “Those voices are not the only ones who the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to protect.  They meant for the First Amendment to protect the voices of all Americans.”

The constitutional amendment seems more of a partisan show than a realistic proposal. A hearing on the idea last month revealed how deep the partisan divide has become since the days when a Republican senator, John McCain of Arizona, teamed up with a Democrat, former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, to propose broad campaign finance reforms.

The reaction to the amendment idea in a recent Senate Rules Committee hearing revealed the depth of the partisan divide. In a statement released Thursday, Senate’s Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the Democrats' proposal “an all-out assault on the right to free speech, a right which undergirds all others in our democracy. It’s also a clear sign of just how desperate elected Washington Democrats have become in their quest to hold onto power.”

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.

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