It could take a very long time, but Common Cause is determined to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision that has unleashed an unlimited torrent of virtually unregulated political campaign spending.

The citizens advocacy organization has launched a drive to enact a constitutional amendment to reverse the court's 2010 Citizens United decision, Derek Cressman said.

Cressman, director of the Campaign to Reverse Citizens United, acknowledges that a quicker path might be changing the composition of what is an aging court.

"But our first objective is to pass the amendment," Cressman said during an interview in Lincoln before returning to his home base in Sacramento, Calif., where he is Common Cause's regional director of western states.

"Constitutional change depending on who (on the court) dies or who retires is not the best way to run the country or to take the Constitution seriously," he said.

However, Cressman acknowledged, pushing for an amendment helps place the issue "front and center" as American voters prepare to select a president and members of the U.S. Senate, raising awareness of the fact that it is the president who nominates, and U.S. senators who confirm, members of the court.

The Citizens United decision was reached on a 5-4 vote.

The Supreme Court's declarations that corporations are people with constitutional rights and equating money with free speech, along with its more recent conclusion that unlimited independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption, have "completely blown apart" the political system, Cressman said.

"Only people are people," the Common Cause website declares.

As for the court's finding that the political system could not be corrupted by the new flood of money, Cressman said: "There are only five people on the planet who think that."

With wealthy individuals pouring money into the process and the blossoming of dominant super PACs, "we are very worried that our basic form of government is at risk," he said.

"We need a constitutional amendment to fix the court's misinterpretation," Cressman said.

Copper barons used to buy Senate seats in Montana and railroads bought them in Nebraska, he said. 

"Now, billionaires are buying Senate seats," he said.

"Candidates who take the sides of monied interests outspend their opponents. That money gets its views elected. And that is fundamentally corrupting."

The court, in effect, has "stood the First Amendment on its head (by) squelching the speech of most people and letting a few voices speak" loudly in the political process, Cressman said.

Last month, the court refused to reconsider its ruling in the Citizens United case and struck down a Montana law banning corporate campaign spending.

The best short-term response now is enactment of legislation requiring greater disclosure of spending and its sources, he said. But opponents have bottled up that legislation in the Senate with a filibuster, he said.

The first step toward a constitutional amendment, Cressman said, could be taken by voters who effectively instruct their state and federal legislators to proceed to adopt a constitutional change.

An initiative on November's ballot in Montana would establish a state policy that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings.

"With this policy, the people of Montana establish that there should be a level playing field in campaign spending, in part by prohibiting corporate campaign contributions and expenditures and by limiting political spending in elections," the initiative states.

"Further, Montana's congressional delegation is charged with proposing a joint resolution offering an amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing that corporations are not human beings entitled to constitutional rights," it concludes.

Nebraska could do the same thing, Cressman said.

"I am confident Nebraska voters are just as offended," he said.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at


Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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