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Bernie Sanders’ SAD Amendment

I am not normally a fan of Bernie “I’m a Socialist” Sanders, but he recently performed a service to America that goes above and beyond the ordinary. He recently introduced the “Saving American Democracy” amendment. And by doing so, he has demonstrated that the U.S. Congress, not to the exclusion of the other branches, is often populated by people who are either ignorant of, indifferent to, or openly hostile of the U.S. Constitution. The SAD amendment, eponymous as it is, should serve as a clarion call to those who love the Constitution.

Now, to be fair, Sanders knows that his amendment stands virtually no chance of becoming part of the Constitution. It is merely his way of pandering to the voters in his state who are upset with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. ____ 08-205 (2010). There are many people, and Sanders is obviously among them, that parrot the idea that Citizens United declared that corporations are people. The only people who could peddle that twaddle are people who have not read the decision. But to remedy a problem that doesn’t exist, Bernie Sanders has come up with the SAD amendment.

In the interests of space, I won’t post the Citizen’s United decision here, but it is easily found, if you wish to really understand the issue. But, like many amendments, the SAD one is small enough to take a look at in the whole. So here it is:

Section 1. The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, or other private entities established for business purposes or to promote business interests under the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.

Section 2. Such corporate and other private entities established under law are subject to regulation by the people through the legislative process so long as such regulations are consistent with the powers of Congress and the States and do not limit the freedom of the press.

Section 3. Such corporate and other private entities shall be prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in any election of any candidate for public office or the vote upon any ballot measure submitted to the people.

Section 4. Congress and the States shall have the power to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own spending, and to authorize the establishment of political committees to receive, spend, and publicly disclose the sources of those contributions and expenditures.

Wow! Less than 200 words to destroy the entire First Amendment’s protection of free speech!

First, we have the ambiguous language of Section 1. SAD says that the rights protected by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons. Then it confuses the issue by excluding specifically pro-business and pro-profit corporations. One is left to wonder whether this enumeration is an exemplar, or a restriction. If an exemplar, it seems confusing and unnecessary. If a restriction, it is self-contradictory in that it states that natural persons have rights, but then so do some associations of people, but not others. It seems to say that Microsoft, e.g., has no rights, but a group opposed to corporations, e.g. Wal-Mart Watch, would.

Section 2 says that entities mentioned in section 1 may be regulated, provided such regulations do not limit the freedom of press. Yet section 1 specifically says there is no first amendment right for corporations. Ambiguous? Not at all. Just self-contradictory and impossible to apply. Unless, of course, one only considers private bloggers the only form of press. Surely the New York Times is a for-profit corporation, and therefore bereft of constitutional protection?

Section 3 removes the ability of any pro-business entity, however organized, to spend any money in any election or plebiscite. Since even the NY Times pays its editorial board, they would be prohibited from writing editorials about any issue or any candidate. Even a small blogger like I aspire to being would run afoul of this section, assuming of course, that writing my blog costs me money, and assuming that I make or wish to make any money writing it.

Section 4 specifically says that the government “shall have the power to regulate and set limits on all election … expenditures,” with no exception for nonprofit corporations or anyone else. This would allow the government to prohibit any person, group, or candidate from spending or contributing any amount it saw fit. The government could, under the terms of section 4, prohibit any contributions to a candidate, prohibit a candidate from spending any money whatsoever, or applying those same limits to any association like the NRA or the ACLU.

It isn’t really surprising that a socialist would come up with such a radically monstrous idea. What is surprising is that its House counterpart has garnered co-sponsors( Reps. Deutch, DeFazio, Ellison, Grijalva, Hastings, Johnson, Larsen, Lee, McDermott, and Welch) from the putatively normal Democratic side of the aisle. What is also surprising is that anything these people say is treated seriously.

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