Nick Nyhart on Justice Stevens' and Senator Udall's Efforts to End "a Constitutional Right to Bribery"

Public Campaign President and CEO Nick Nyhart went on 920 KVEC’s Dave Congalton Show Wednesday to talk about retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ and U.S. Senator Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) proposed constitutional amendments. Nyhart summarized the possible amendments, their differences, and why public financing is a critical part of any changes in campaign finance laws.

On the democratic crisis that has born these two amendment proposals, Nyhart said:

"First of all, it is very significant when a retired justice calls for a constitutional amendment because that means they have said that you can’t count on the court. And this is so important that if you have a runaway court you need to make sure this can’t happen again and rein it back in. So, to have a retired justice say this underscores the severity of the situation. He wouldn’t do this unless he felt there was a crisis in our democracy right now. So what he proposes, what Senator Udall proposes….the Udall proposal is the one that is going forward in the Senate that will be put to a vote in August … has 38 cosponsors so it has a head of steam….Both of them say let’s give Congress the power to set limits on campaign expenditures as well as contributions. Right now, they can set contribution limits but they cannot set expenditure limits. And that’s where the ability to give unlimited money comes in."

He explained that while different, both Justice Stevens and Senator Udall want to end the legalized corruption created by the current Supreme Court. He told the audience:

"There is some language in both those that says there is really some intent here. In one case [Justice Stevens’ proposal], it is reasonableness that you can’t go too far. In the other case [Senator Udall’s amendment], it is that you have to have some integrity and equality in mind in setting any of these kind of limits. In both case they temper a little, but what they do do is give Congress the power to curve these unlimited corrupting contributions. Right now the court has really turned a blind eye to what big money can do in politics.  Says “nope, not going to touch that.” They have almost established a constitutional right to bribery."

While Nyhart thinks these constitutional amendments are great, he also reminded listeners that there is a real alternative already in the Congress: He believes:

"The answer is what’s been called Clean Election, Fair Elections, and in some places has other names [such as] voter owned election. The idea is public funds matching small donations so that ordinary people have some power in politics.  Money may not be speech, but money is certainly is power. So let’s give power back to constituents when it comes to elections. There are a number of ways to do it. Right now there is a bill in the house that’s gained a lot of support, has a 150 co-sponsors, is the Government by the People Act. The lead sponsor is Representative John Sarbanes from Maryland."

To learn more about H.R. 20, the Government by the People Act, click here.