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Harry Reid and friends want to ‘fix’ First Amendment, raise money

By   /   September 8, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog.org

MADISON, Wis. — The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has served its citizens pretty well over the past 220-plus years.

Now, Senate Democrats want to fix it.

Fresh off summer vacation, Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and his pals could hold a procedural vote as soon as Monday evening on a constitutional amendment that would amend the First Amendment.

To its supporters, the proposed amendment is designed to limit the influence of money in politics.

AP photo

POLITICS FIRST: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has his mind set on amending the First Amendment. Reid and supporters say it’s all about taking big money out of politics. Critics say the effort is all about politics and Harry Reid.

To those who hold sacred the protections afforded to religion, free speech, the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, the amendment, authored by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is fighting words.

“Forty-six Senate Democrats have concluded that the First Amendment is an impediment to re-election that a little tinkering can cure,” former Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson wrote Tuesday in Wall Street Journal opinion piece headlined, “Harry Reid Rewrites the First Amendment.”

As Olson notes, the constitutional amendment would “give Congress and state legislatures the authority to regulate the degree to which citizens can devote their resources to advocating the election or defeat of candidates.”

“Voters, whatever their political views, should rise up against politicians who want to dilute the Bill of Rights to perpetuate their tenure in office,” Olson writes.

This urgent campaign to change what has been described as the “Blue Collar amendment” because of its everyday application by U.S. citizens, is a reaction to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that struck down previous limits on money in politics.

“Amending our Constitution is not something any of us should take lightly, but the flood of special interest money in our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced,” Reid said in May on the Senate floor. “Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy.”

Democrats certainly seem to have brought in truckloads of money for their campaigns, thanks to the First Amendment and the drive to change it.

The Democratic National Campaign Committee sent a mass appeal Monday trumpeting that Monday “could be an historic moment.”

“The Senate is set to vote on a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. It would be a huge step forward towards removing the corrosive influence of unlimited corporate money in our elections,” the email states.

The DNCC then turns up the partisan heat.

“Unfortunately, Republicans are already signaling that they will obstruct the bill. That’s a big relief to the Big Oil billionaires who are backing them. “Listen, we have to show Republicans that voters won’t wait any longer — we want change NOW. That means we need an immense display of public pressure demanding they support overturning Citizens United.”

To that end, Democrats are pan-handling for another 50,000 signatures, claiming they are close to hitting their goal of 250,000 names on a petition in support of amending the amendment.

It’s also a great way to tap potential donors for financial support.

Gene Policinski, senior vice president of the First Amendment Center, said the concern about money in politics is well documented, but changing the right that more Americans recognize more than all others presents a slippery slope of dangers.

“I think we tinker with free speech and the ability for Americans to truly express themselves at a peril,” said Policinski, who also serves as chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute. “There are many things most of us would not like to hear, but one constitutional amendment could beget another and suddenly we are in a society where you can’t say this or that.”

“People around the world die every day to have what Americans have when the wake up in the morning.”

Reid’s scheme has little chance of going anywhere, beginning with the Senate, where filibuster is a certainty. Any amendment to the Constitution requires congressional approval, with two-thirds backing in both Houses. A proposed amendment must also garner support from three-fourths of the states.

Still, an opinion piece in the American Spectator argues that this “would-be 28th Amendment is poorly drafted, extremely dangerous, and has the potential to uproot our most cherished freedoms.”

“Its supporters should be embarrassed and the amendment should be stopped immediately,” the publication declares.

Democrats rallying around the proposed amendment seem anything but embarrassed about the prospect of changing the first guarantee in the Bill of Rights. And they certainly seemed poised to make money off what critics see as a partisan, phony fight.

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.