Fixing Our Elections, Fixing Our Country

CQ News

by Sen. Jon Tester

Our national debt and deficit. Immigration. Safe schools and communities. Responsibly developing our natural resources. Our troops serving overseas.

There are no easy answers to the complex issues facing our nation. But there is one step we can take right now to unlock the political will necessary to tackle these issues and put America on the path to long-term prosperity.

We must fix our broken election system.

That’s why this week, I introduced a constitutional amendment that clarifies that corporations are not “people.” My amendment puts elections back in the hands of regular folks by restoring the right of Congress to limit corporate influence in elections, preventing the kind of unlimited and undisclosed spending that plagued our elections in 2012.

I’ve seen how dark, secret money warps elections and prevents officials from doing what’s right to move our country forward.

After the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates, outside groups deluged America’s airwaves in 2012 with millions of dollars of political ads. Americans who turned on their TV or opened their newspaper often couldn’t tell who was paying for these ads because the groups behind them didn’t have to reveal their donors.

As a result, Montana’s 2012 Senate re- election race was the most expensive in my state’s history. The price tag topped $47 million, meaning groups spent almost $100 for every vote cast. Outside groups, such as super PACs, poured so much money into my state that Montanans sat through more campaign ads than the citizens of any other state in our nation’s history.

We may never know the source of much of this money, but we know that it distorts our elections. Secret money drowns out the ideas and priorities of regular Americans in favor of the special interests of big corporations. And the threat of future spending deters elected officials from making the tough choices needed to do what’s best for our country.

Americans deserve better. In Montana, we’ve already demanded it. Last year, in the same election that Montanans re-elected me to the Senate, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of directing Montana’s entire congressional delegation to introduce legislation amending the U.S. Constitution to make it clear that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as you or me.

This isn’t the first time Montanans have been ahead of the rest of the nation. Our efforts to stand up to corporate influence dates back to the early 1900s, when wealthy mining corporations used their money to buy elections. In response, our forefathers voted in 1912 to limit corporate influence.

Our law stood for 100 years until the Supreme Court overturned it last year.

Now it’s time to kick off another century of free and fair elections – because fixing our political system matters for our future. Leaders who work on behalf of the people create more middle-class jobs, cut our debt in ways that make sense and allow us to make smart investments that benefit our future generations.

But making sure that people and their ideas, not corporations and their money, decide our elections is personal to me – and it should be to you, too.

During my campaign last year, I traveled tens of thousands of miles listening to the concerns of Montana families and small-business owners. These farmers and store owners had a lot on their minds, but they always took a moment to tell me that they didn’t like how corporations were influencing our elections.

Just like all Americans, these folks deserve elections and leaders who put them first. Montanans are demanding it, and it’s time for all Americans to do so as well.

Sen. Jon Tester is a Democrat from Montana.