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Citizens United, the Senate, and a Seat at the Hearing

July 21, 2014
Student Serena Advani works on Capitol Hill. She has had many great experiences being a PPI (Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative) intern.

Author: Serena Advani, W’17 & C’17

There’s something about interning on Capitol Hill that is impossible to find anywhere else. Maybe it’s the feeling you get passing the Supreme Court on the way to work, or the ability to walk through the Capitol’s Rotunda while running errands. It could be the high likelihood of running into senators in the hallway, or the chance to sit in on hearings with presidents of multinational corporations. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the knowledge that you’re in the middle of the beating heart of American government is intoxicating, exhilarating and undeniably inspiring.

Of the many amazing experiences I had this summer, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on campaign finance reform proved to be one of the most eye-opening. The discussion focused on the prospect of the Senate Judiciary Committee to overturn the precedence for campaign finance set by the Citizens United ruling with Senate Joint Resolution 19, a Constitutional Amendment to Restore Democracy to American People. At 10:30 A.M.(late in the day by the standards of a city that never truly turns off, government shutdowns notwithstanding), on June 3rd, dozens of congressional staffers, activists, citizens, senators, and interns gathered in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s meeting room in the Dirksen Office Building. Even though I arrived around half an hour early, a long line had already snaked outside along the bustling halls of the building.

The hearing began with an introduction of the proposed amendment; supporters of the legislation believe that the 2010 Citizens United ruling undermines the integrity of campaign finance and that congressional action is necessary to overturn the Court’s decision. As activists looked on proudly (some with their mouths taped shut as a sign of solidarity against voter disenfranchisement), dozens of boxes of petitions in favor of the amendment were wheeled into the room. Over two million signatures had been counted in the days prior to the hearing.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley explained that the Constitution was adopted to secure liberty and agreed that the Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech. Senator Grassley, however, clarified that the Bill of Rights only pertains to individual rights and that the proposed amendment would make it difficult for candidates to challenge incumbents. Furthermore, the senator believes that the issue should not even be debated by Congress but rather left up to the Supreme Court, since four Supreme Court Justices are currently opposed to campaign donations from corporations and it is possible that a fifth justice would agree, thus eliminating the need for legislative action. Senator Mitch McConnell agreed that the amendment should not be passed; he suggested that previously proposed amendments similar to this one have been defeated, with legislation from 1998 and 2001 as examples. He believes that the “first amendment hasn’t ever been amended, so it shouldn’t be amended now.”

Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz also expressed extreme disapproval of the proposed amendment. He believes that passing it would entail “repealing free speech.” He stated that the “Constitution was not a rough draft,” so amendments such as this one should not be considered. Senator Cruz also focused on the fact that 42 Democratic Senators had supported this legislation, and he questioned the audience about why “the Democrats abandoned the Bill of Rights.” After his undoubtedly enthusiastic testimony, a witness from North Carolina’s General Assembly joined the discussion.

Senator Floyd McKissick Jr., the North Carolina State Senate Deputy Minority Leader, spoke about how he wanted to make a difference in politics until one individual joined the NC political arena after the Citizens United ruling. Art Pope, a businessman and CEO of a retail wholesale chain, injected money into 22 campaigns in different races across the state. For example, he flooded $8.2 million into NC gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory’s race. Eighteen of the candidates he supported were elected, and as soon as Governor McCrory was sworn into office, Art Pope was appointed as the North Carolina State Budget Director. “There are winners and losers in every budget, and Art Pope won,” said McKissick. North Carolina has since been under national scrutiny for the policies Governor McCrory has supported, including shortened early voting periods and strict new voter identification laws that can hurt teens, students, the elderly, and minorities. McKissick asserted, “Public service is calling. What we have now doesn’t look like democracy because ordinary people’s voices are getting drowned out.”

Another guest, Floyd Abrams, a partner at Cahill Gordon and Reindel and an expert on constitutional law, contributed with his comments against the legislation. He reiterated the argument that the legislation would only provide incumbents with an advantage, since their names would already be familiar to voters, even without additional campaign spending. “The notion that democracy would be saved [if the legislation is passed] is overkill and a misuse of American language,” he stated.

Senator Patrick Leahy wrapped the hearing up with a testimony in favor of the proposed amendment. He stated that the “history of our Constitution has been of progressive inclusion of all people who are able to be political participants, such as minorities and women.” He refuted Senator Cruz’s argument that the Constitution should never evolve by asserting that the United States has “a dynamic constitution, which has been amended before.”

Overall, the hearing was a chance for senators to learn from each other and experts, and it was a chance for Congressional staffers and interns to hear more about a topic that millions of constituents care about deeply. I’m still surprised by the fact that I, as a college student, could hear from those who make the policy decisions that affect every American citizen. Not only did I learn more about campaign finance reform, but I also had the chance to experience the ability for citizens to listen in and be a part of the political process. The fact that Penn has taught us to engage with our communities made my experience in D.C. so much more valuable. From the Penn-Wharton Public Policy Initiative events that are held throughout the year to the clubs that promote causes along Locust Walk every morning, the culture of engagement is a great one to bring to D.C. as an intern, and it has helped spark my interest in topics such as campaign finance. We may not (actually, we definitely do not) all agree on every political issue out there, but the ability for us to sit together at a hearing and express our opinions – for every voice, every elected Senator, to be heard – is what makes America great.

 

 

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

PENN WHARTON PPI
RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
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  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
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  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>