By design, the process for amending the U.S. Constitution is extremely difficult, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) nevertheless endorsed
a proposal a couple of weeks ago with a simple goal: empowering Congress to "regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns."
A narrow, conservative majority of the Supreme Court has embraced the notion that money is speech, and therefore most limits on campaign financing are dubious restrictions on Americans' free-speech rights. For Democratic senators like Reid, Tom Udall, and Michael Bennet, a constitutional amendment is the appropriate remedy to prevent the corruption of our democracy.
Republicans aren't impressed with the idea, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), true to form, is going further than most
. At an event late last week hosted by the Family Research Council, a leading group in the religious right movement, the far-right Texan told the audience of conservative pastors:
"This year, I'm sorry to tell you, the United States Senate is going to be voting on a constitutional amendment to repeal the First Amendment."
If you listen to the clip, note that the audience gasps in horror
, as if they'd just heard something genuinely shocking, leading Cruz to add, "I am telling you, I am not making this up."
Actually, he is making this up. There are good and bad arguments surrounding an amendment on campaign financing, but there is no proposal on the table to "repeal the First Amendment."
Cruz added that the amendment would give Congress the "unlimited authority" to "regulate political speech." As he probably knows, that's plainly not true, either.
But of particular interest was the right-wing senator telling the assembled church pastors that the amendment would empower Congress "to muzzle each and every one of you." Cruz was lying, but it's an interesting kind of lie.
Senate leadership is planning to hold a vote on a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and rulings in related campaign finance cases such as this year's McCutcheon case, which have steadily eliminated the limits on election spending by corporations and wealthy individuals. The amendment, written by Sen. Tom Udall, would give the federal government and states the "power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents" in elections, as it was allowed to do before the Supreme Court started dismantling campaign finance regulations. In other words, the amendment would allow Congress and state governments to set limits on the amount that corporations and wealthy individuals can spend to support and oppose candidates.
Maybe you think this is a good idea; maybe you don't. Maybe you think money is speech; maybe you don't. Maybe you think the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United was the right call; maybe you don't.
But regardless of how one looks at this debate, the Senate Democrats' proposed amendment has to do with campaign financing. We're talking about PACs, Super PACs, independent campaign expenditures, limits on contributions, etc.
Houses of worship are tax-exempt non-profits, which cannot legally intervene in partisan elections. So when Cruz tells a group of church leaders that the amendment would "muzzle" them if they dare to criticize the government, that doesn't make any sense at all.
I suppose it's possible that the GOP senator is simply confused, popping off on a subject without getting his facts straight first, but given Cruz's track record, it seems more likely he knows full well what he's saying is wrong, but sees shameless demagoguery as a means to an end.