For Congress to actually propose an amendment to the Constitution requires 67 votes in the Senate (and 290 votes in the now Republican-controlled House). On the current count, that means at least a dozen Republicans would need to cross the aisle to join Udall (assuming what certainly isn’t given—that he could get a unanimous vote from his own party). And though I am no leader of the U.S. Senate, it seems to me unlikely that forcing a partisan fight on the eve of an election is a winning strategy for flipping at least a third of Senate Republicans. Nor does it seem likely—unless annexing Canada is in the works—that Democrats are going to gain a two-thirds majority in the Senate anytime soon.
Instead, if there is going to be fundamental reform, that reform must be cross-partisan. And in the upset election that removed Eric Cantor, the seeds to that cross-partisan reform are clear.
The single central flaw in American democracy today is not the speech within elections—not how much or how nasty or by whom. The single central flaw is the fundraising. America has outsourced the funding of campaigns to the tiniest fraction of the 1 percent. That tiny fraction then leverages its power to enormous effect. It turns otherwise conservative Republicans into “crony capitalists”—the tag David Brat successfully attached to Eric Cantor. It turns otherwise progressive Democrats into the “tools of Wall Street”—think Clinton-led deregulation in the 1990s. Bending goes both ways, pushing the principles on both the right and left off the table. The reality of the need to fundraise is the reality of everything in D.C. And thus it is no surprise that the largest empirical study of policy decisions ever in the history of political science finds a government responsive to the wants of the “economic elite” and “business interests,” but finds “average citizens ... have little or no independent influence.”
Restricting the money spent in elections won’t change this. (Wherever the limit is set, the cash still needs to be raised.) Neither will declaring that “corporations are not persons” change this. (The tiny fraction of the 1 percent that funds campaigns includes no corporations.) The only way to change this is to change the way we fund elections. Both Democrats and Republicans have offered strategies for spreading out the funder influence, consistent with the Constitution as interpreted by this Supreme Court.
Maryland Democratic Representative John Sarbanes’s Government by the People Act, for example, introduced in February, would provide matching funds for small-dollar-funded campaigns—enough to make it possible for a candidate to win without becoming dependent upon this tiny fraction of the 1 percent. And more than two years ago, George W. Bush’s ethics czar, Richard Painter, proposed the Taxation Only With Representation Act, which would give every voter a $200 voucher to fund small-dollar campaigns.