Tina Smith

United States Senator for Minnesota

Sen. Tina Smith Says 2010 Supreme Court Decision to Allow Secretive, Unregulated Money to Influence U.S. Elections is Imperiling U.S. Democracy

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Senator Says it’s Time to Reverse Citizens United Ruling in Senate Floor Speech

WASHINGTON, D.C. [06/13/18]—U.S Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed a torrent of secretive, unregulated money to influence American political campaigns should be reversed because it is giving unknown wealthy donors outsized influence in elections and imperiling the nation’s democracy.

In a Senate floor speech Tuesday, Smith pressed for enactment of a constitutional amendment to reverse the Court’s Citizens United decision and outlined several other campaign finance reforms to restore fairness to the political process.

You can download a video of Sen. Smith’s speech by clicking here.

“The sharp rise of secretive, unregulated money in politics means that we have no idea who is spending money on campaigns and candidates or why. And that is a profoundly troubling problem for our democracy,” said Sen. Smith in her remarks.

“While there are many causes of the rise of money in politics, perhaps the biggest is the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. The 5-4 decision in Citizens United struck down key limitations on campaign contributions that were enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2002. That decision has had dire consequences for our democracy.”

Smith continued: “One of the most important things we can do is to enact a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision. And in my very first month as a Senator, I cosponsored Senator Tom Udall’s legislation to do exactly that. A few wealthy donors shouldn’t dominate the political conversation in this country.”

You can access a copy of Sen. Smith’s remarks as prepared for delivery here, or below.

Floor Speech on Campaign Finance Reform
Senator Tina Smith
(As prepared for delivery) 

M. President:

Last week I gave my first speech on the Senate floor.  I spoke about how important it is for women to be represented in our government, and why it’s so important to keep working to ensure that our legislature reflects the views and experiences of all Americans.

While growing the number of women in this chamber is an important step, having more women isn’t enough by itself.  Elections simply cost too much, and it’s a big problem in our country. The sharp rise of secretive, unregulated money in politics means that we have no idea who is spending money on campaigns and candidates or why. And that is a profoundly troubling problem for our democracy.  

While there are many causes of the rise of money in politics, perhaps the biggest is the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. The 5-4 decision in Citizens United struck down key limitations on campaign contributions that were enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2002. That decision has had dire consequences for our democracy.  

Since Citizens United, each Congressional campaign cycle has seen successively more money poured into it.  Much of that money has come from Super PACs and other secretive organizations that are structured specifically to hide the identity of their donors.  Other funds have come from large corporations which can afford to spend millions on political activities in order to further their own special interests.  The upshot of all of this?

Super PACS and other dark money organizations spent some $1.4 billion in the 2016 election.  And we have no idea who did the spending or why.

This kind of secretive, unlimited, corporate-driven political spending is simply unfair to voters in Minnesota and around the country.  That’s why I’m fighting so hard to reform our campaign finance system. 

One of the most important things we can do is to enact a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision.  And in my very first month as a Senator, I cosponsored Senator Tom Udall’s constitutional amendment to do exactly that.  It’s time to put in place commonsense campaign finance rules, so that a few wealthy donors can’t dominate the political conversation in this country. 

But reversing Citizens United isn’t the only thing necessary to restore fairness in our political process.  We should pass Senator Whitehouse’s DISCLOSE Act, which I’m proud to cosponsor. This legislation requires Super PACs and big political spenders to disclose to the public exactly where their donations are going.  No constitutional amendment is required for this key measure, and I urge the Senate to immediately take up and pass the DISCLOSE Act. 

We also should replace the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), which is mired in political squabbling and hindered with weak enforcement authority.  The FEC should be replaced with a new campaign finance agency that has a strong mandate to enforce the law, with new rules to ensure that one political party can’t shut down the agency simply for political gain. 

I also believe that we should enact a small donor matching funds program, because many Americans who aren’t wealthy want to support a candidate they believe in but simply can’t afford to write a check for thousands of dollars like the big donors do.  A matching funds program will help amplify the donations of these smaller donors and working families, and it would be a key step toward leveling the playing field for working families who want to support a candidate. 

Finally, we should improve voter registration.  Increasingly, some have sought to disenfranchise voters, especially voters of color, by making it harder to register to vote, harder to get a ballot, or simply through voter intimidation.  It’s time that we fix the Voting Rights Act and crack down on discriminatory voting rules that block access to the polls, including fixing the recent terrible Supreme Court decision allowing states to kick voters off the rolls if they don’t vote regularly. 

I believe that all Americans should be represented here in the United States Senate, not just the wealthy few.  Our democracy is built on the principle that the American people have the power in our elections so I’m going to keep fighting to reform our campaign finance rules.

Thank you and I yield the floor.

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