There are multiple levels of irony here, but let’s start with the basics first. Harry Reid plans to go all out to push a new constitutional amendment that would limit political speech for the first time since the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. The bill, SJ-19, has floated around since Mark Udall and Michael Bennet introduced it last June following the Buckley v Valeo ruling at the Supreme Court. Greg Sargent got an advance look at the speech Reid intends to deliver, which makes it sound as though the amendment would be titled The Koch Brothers Are So Un-American That I Have Lost My Mind Act:
“The Kochs’ bid for a hostile takeover of American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer. Yet the Kochs and their Republican followers in Congress continue to assert that these hundreds of millions of dollars are free speech. For evidence of that, look no further than the Republican Leader, who has flat out said, ‘in our society, spending is speech.’…
“The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have, he more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong. Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…
“I urge my colleagues to support this constitutional amendment — to rally behind our democracy. I understand what we Senate Democrats are proposing is no small thing — amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly. But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons.”
Gee, I thought the Constitution specifically forbids “bills of attainder,” in Article I, Section 9. The reason I bring that up is because of the people Reid doesn’t mention — people like Tom Steyer, the billionaire who’s funding the Democrats this cycle, or Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who is funding Republicans but who can kneecap Reid in his home state of Nevada.
This is a scream of impotence, in more ways than one. First, SJ-19 has no more chance of passing out of Congress than does a bill amending the Constitution to forbid abortion. It takes two-thirds of both chambers of Congress (Article V) to send an amendment to state legislatures, and Reid won’t get to 60 in the Senate. The House won’t address it at all. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that even a majority of state legislatures would take it up; more of them are Republican than Democrat, and they’ve seen the malicious prosecution that results when putting this much power in the hands of partisans in the executive branch. Wisconsin just provided an excellent example of that.
So this is just cheap political theater in an attempt to demonize two particular donors who just happen to oppose Reid’s agenda. Democrats are about to climb onto that bandwagon that proclaims that Americans can’t be trusted to discern political arguments and that the governing class should decide who gets to participate in politics. If that’s the only strategy Reid has left for the midterms, well … Democrats are in bigger trouble than we realized.
By the way, when did Reid become such a big fan of amendments?
Update: Giving us a preview of the target practice Reid and his cohort will provide Republicans is Orrin Hatch:
“How ironic that Senate Democrats are using the platform of the ‘world’s greatest deliberative body’ to seek to undermine the First Amendment free speech rights of other Americans with whom they disagree. As I outlined in a speech on the Senate floor last week, the White House and its Democrat allies in Congress have launched a concerted effort to stifle speech and trample on one of the most fundamental rights that Americans possess. Not only is such an effort offensive to the natural and constitutional rights all Americans cherish, it is also a transparent political ploy. Democrats are simply seeking to distract from their failure to address the real issues facing our country, like our sluggish economy and the President’s disastrous health care law. It is truly a shame that Democrats would attack our most important freedoms in seeking to avoid accountability for their poor leadership.”
Well, distraction is easier when you can muzzle the people who would otherwise point it out.