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Jeb Bush calls for amendment to fix Citizens United

Don’t like Jeb Bush’s $100 million-plus super PAC? Neither does he.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush listens to a question from the audience during a campaign town hall meeting in Nashua, N.H., Feb. 7, 2016. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush listens to a question from the audience during a campaign town hall meeting in Nashua, N.H., Feb. 7, 2016.

Manchester, NH – Don’t like Jeb Bush’s $100 million-plus super PAC? Neither does he.

Jeb Bush turned heads on Monday when he issued a call for a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited money groups like the pro-Bush powerhouse Right to Rise. However, his campaign quickly clarified that Bush was only reiterating an existing position, creating confusion over the remarks. 

"The ideal situation would be to overturn the Supreme Court ruling that allows for...unregulated money for the independent and regulated for the campaign,” Bush said at a town hall in Nashua. “I would turn that on its head if I could.”

Bush repeated his longtime plan to replace the current campaign finance system with new rules that allowed unlimited campaign donations but required candidates to disclose their donors within 48 hours.

“Then a candidate will be held accountable for whatever, whatever comes to the voters through the campaign,” Bush explained.  “Unfortunately the Supreme Court ruling makes that, at least temporarily, impossible, so it’s going to require an amendment to the constitution.”

Other Republican candidates have issued similar proposals and Bush’s campaign has also called for new restrictions on “dark money” groups that don’t disclose donors.

The change would mean candidates could accept multi-million dollar donations themselves rather than relying on outside groups like Right to Rise that are barred from coordinating directly with campaigns. Currently, campaigns can accept only $2,700 per donor for the primary and another $2,700 per donor for the general election. 

Bush went on to suggest that the issue be taken up at a constitutional convention along with other items like term limits, a line item vote and a balanced budget amendment.

“A fourth possibility could be overturning the Supreme Court decision and creating greater transparency for how you raise money and how you spend it,” Bush said of the convention process.

Bush’s campaign quickly stepped in to clarify the comments, saying that the candidate was restating his old position and did not favor reversing the court’s decision.  

“He’s not advocating for additional restrictions on the ability of an organization to have political speech, he's calling for increased transparency and for balancing it back to campaigns,” Bush campaign spokesman Tim Miller told MSNBC.

Miller added that all of Bush’s proposed changes could be achieved through Congress and would not legally require amending the Constitution. To the extent a state-driven constitutional convention might become involved, it would be to bypass political obstacles in Washington.

Advocacy groups that promote greater restrictions on political spending greeted Bush’s remarks with skepticism.

“Republicans and Democrats alike are responding to an electorate fed up with a broken political system that too often favors wealthy special interests at the expense of everyone else,” David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, said in a statement. “Yet voters should not be fooled by Jeb Bush's support to overturn the unpopular Citizens United decision because he followed it up with a call for unlimited donations to candidates that would completely undermine any progress made by overturning Citizens United.”  

The dust-up comes as Donald Trump, who leads polls of primary voters in New Hampshire and has renounced support from super PACs, is increasingly targeting Bush over his donors. In an appearance in Holderness on Sunday, Trump warned that Bush would side with the business interests that gave to his campaign, singling out Bush finance chairman and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. 

On the Democratic side, both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton favor overturning the Citizens United decision and reinstating limits on political spending.