Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 9, 2014
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. HIRONO. Madam President, listening to the good Senator from Texas, I feel as though I am in a parallel universe.

I rise to support S.J. Res. 19, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that ensures our democracy is for the people--for the people, not for corporations.

I am proud to cosponsor this measure. I am also proud to stand with the overwhelming majority of this country in support of restoring commonsense and fair campaign finance rules.

The current Supreme Court has been noted as among the most pro-corporate Supreme Courts in our history. In decision after decision, a narrow conservative majority of the Court has placed the voices of the corporations and special interests over the voices of the people.

The Court decided Citizens United in 2010. Corporations are people with free speech rights, said the Court's 5-to-4 majority. Under this construct that corporations are people, this ruling, Citizens United, granted special interests the right to use corporate treasuries to drown out the voices of the people without being subject to meaningful disclosure requirements.

We have already seen the impact of this decision. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, this election year outside groups have spent triple the amount they had at the same time in 2010, and the election is still months away.

The Court thrust the floodgates even wider with the ruling in the McCutcheon case. This ruling struck down aggregate limits on contributions by individuals. So now billionaires could spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections--and they are doing just that.

In these two decisions, the majority willfully ignored the reality of the corrupting influence of Big Money in our democracy. It is clear to me that the Court got it wrong in both cases. To fix what has been done, Congress must act.

The need for action is not just a Democratic or Republican issue. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Campaign spending is out of control, and the American people strongly support reform. Seventy-one percent believe that individual contributions should be limited, and 76 percent believe that spending by outside groups should also be limited.

The American public is clear on this issue. Only in Washington, DC, has this become such a polarized debate. Unchecked and unaccountable, spending on campaigns impacts politics and policy across the country, even at the State and local levels. From Arizona to Montana to my home State of Hawaii, the Supreme Court's extreme decisions on campaign finance are undermining fair, democratic processes.

The Citizens United and McCutcheon cases also limit the ability of Congress and the States to fix the problems caused by these decisions. Why? Because the Supreme Court has decided that unfettered spending in elections is a constitutional right. So the only way we can fix these wrong decisions is by amending the Constitution.

The Supreme Court's majority claims that allowing unlimited spending in elections is essential to protecting the First Amendment, that unlimited spending by corporations and individuals is a constitutional right.

Guess what. Before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United and McCutcheon, the First Amendment and constitutional rights were alive and well. So the Court argued that restricting campaign spending would limit the right of individuals and groups to participate in our democratic process--never mind that they have been participating in our democratic processes before these decisions.

In reality, these rulings institutionalize the power of Big Money in politics at the expense of regular Americans. The Court's decisions have the effect of saying that in our democracy those with the most money should have the loudest voices and that the very identity of those voices can be hidden from the voters. The huge undisclosed expenditures that these decisions allow have diluted the core principle of democracy: one person, one vote.

The vast majority of the American people disagree with the Supreme Court's unprecedented interpretation of the First Amendment. The Court has left us with the option we are pursuing today--amending the U.S. Constitution. When the Supreme Court said that women did not have the right to vote, Congress and the people passed the 19th Amendment. So amending the Constitution to protect our democracy is not some new or radical idea. When the Supreme Court said States could impose poll taxes on the poor, Congress and the people passed the 24th Amendment, and the list goes on. Why? Because the Supreme Court is made up of human beings, and as human beings they sometimes get it wrong, as they did in the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions.

As retired Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent to Citizens United:

The Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.

Justice Stevens has it right and so does the overwhelming majority of Americans. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all agree that the Court's ruling in Citizen's United and McCutcheon stand for something that is completely inconsistent with America's Constitution, history, and values. I say that the First Amendment was alive and well before the Citizens United and the McCutcheon decisions.

The constitutional amendment before us does not repeal anything in the Constitution; rather, it undoes the damage that five members of the Supreme Court have done to free and fair elections. By the way, money buys speech, it is not speech. I urge my colleagues to support S.J. Res. 19.

I yield the floor.