By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT –Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court shook up the world of campaign finance by ruling that corporations and unions may spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.
Since then, a very small part of the American public –0.01 percent — has donated 40 percent of all the contributions.
That needs to be stopped, said a small group in front of the Capitol Wednesday that offered the statistic to reporters.
They were in support for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to do away with the 2010 high court ruling called “Citizens United.”
A tiny portion of this country is funding elections and, in effect, controlling their outcome, said Richard Beliles, a Louisville attorney who is chair of Common Cause of Kentucky.
The group is part of the national Common Cause organization that advocates open, honest and accessible state and local government.
Common Cause held rallies across the country Tuesday similar to the one at the Kentucky Capitol and urged members of Congress to join the efforts in curbing campaign spending.
Joining Beliles in Frankfort were Louisville retired attorney George Schuhmann with Public Citizen, a non-profit, consumer rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.; Amy Waters of Louisville with 350.org, a global climate movement; and Jan Christensen of Louisville with 350.org and the environmental group, Sierra Club.
Beliles acknowledged that getting a constitutional amendment to nullify Citizens United will be a grueling task.
After Congress proposes an amendment usually referred from a state legislature and it gets a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate, state legislatures have to consider it.
A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the states (38 of the 50). The last amendment to the Constitution was in May 1992.
Waters said the only member of Kentucky’s congressional delegation that is supportive of an amendment to do away with Citizens United is Democrat John Yarmuth of Louisville.
A chief backer of Citizens United is U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville. Throughout his political career, he has opposed limits to political fundraising and spending primarily in the name of free speech.
An unexpected problem created by the Citizens United ruling, said Schuhmann, is the proliferation of wealthy individuals, including corporate executives, who have made large contributions, while corporations funnel money through so-called “dark money” groups that permit donors to remain secret.
This is a growing problem, and we simply recommend transparency, said Beliles. “Disclosure solves all the problems.
Beliles said the Kentucky legislature this year will be asked to consider a resolution to request Congress to present a constitutional amendment against Citizens United.