Time to Support the 'For Our Freedom' Amendment

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In 2010, the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision, leading to an explosion in political spending and the rise of dark money groups that exert tremendous influence in elections here in Pennsylvania, especially in competitive races. The only way to recalibrate the power balance in favor of voters is to amend the U.S. Constitution. 

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bipartisan resolution that calls on Congress to propose such an amendment. The For Our Freedom Amendment would give states and Congress the power to set limits on campaign contributions and spending, essentially handing power back to the states, as it existed before the Court’s 2010 decision. Twenty-two states have passed similar resolutions in support of the amendment. Pennsylvania should join them. 

Dark money has a significant impact on many local races and competitive elections. That’s because billionaires and deep-pocketed special interest groups can spend unlimited money that gives their side control over the information channels that voters rely upon to make decisions. Dark money groups can saturate television with advertising, send higher volumes of mailers, and inundate voters with messages. Candidates lacking such resources face nearly impossible odds getting their message across at equal volume, even if their message and values align closer with the voters. 

An uneven financial playing field can be the deciding factor in competitive races where margins are thin. The current system unduly dissuades many public-minded and highly qualified individuals from ever running for office. Many opt out in the belief that they will never be able to raise the funds necessary to compete for seats. When many of our best and brightest citizens say “no thanks” to public service, we all get hurt in the long run.

This is a practical reason for implementing contribution and spending limits, but the problem goes much deeper. The source of the money often originates from donors who’ve never lived, worked, or raised a family in the communities or districts where they’re exerting influence. Current law does not even require the wealthy donors funding these groups to disclose their identities publicly, so voters don’t know who is behind the efforts to influence their decisions. Out-of-state billionaires or interest groups should not be dictating the terms and outcomes of Pennsylvania elections. The decision should be left to Pennsylvanians alone. 

Opponents of the For Our Freedom Amendment argue that campaign-finance limits and disclosure requirements would deprive dark money donors of their privacy, which, they claim, could lead to harassment, violence, or worse. But nothing in the amendment would undo the existing protections against threats and harassment. Instead, it would enable greater transparency so that voters can evaluate the sources of campaign money. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia recognized, anonymity oftentimes “facilitates wrong by eliminating accountability.” Skirting accountability and reaping the rewards of election influence is the likely impetus for dark money spending. Again, per Justice Scalia, accountability “is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance.”

Ninety-three percent of Pennsylvania voters believe that the influence of money in politics is a threat to our democracy; 81% support a constitutional amendment to change this state of affairs. Legislators in Harrisburg should join their constituents and the 22 other states that support the For Our Freedom Amendment by passing the resolution in favor. 

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