December 21, 2011 Dylan Ratigan

Rep. John Yarmuth: “Money Is Speech” Was Tragic For This Country

The chorus for getting money out of politics keeps getting louder by the day.  We now have thirteen amendments (all of which you can read at United Republic), but as of December 20th, we’re adding one more to the mix.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) has proposed a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).  His proposed amendment declares that spending on elections does not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment.  It would also give Congress the authority to create a public financing system as the sole source of funding for federal elections and designates a national holiday for the purpose of voting.

“Corporate money equals influence, not free speech,” Rep. Yarmuth said on The Dylan Ratigan Show. “The last thing Congress needs is more corporate candidates who don’t answer to the American people. Until we get big money out of politics, we will never be able to responsibly address the major issues facing American families – and that starts by ensuring our elections and elected officials cannot be bought by the well-off and well-connected.”

Rep. Yarmuth joined Dylan to talk about his proposal.  A full explanation of the different sections of the amendment is after the video:

“It’s pretty obvious, Dylan, that this is a broken system. I don’t think there are many people out there in the country who think it’s working the way it should. Money has an incredible influence on it. It influences the way we spend our time. We have people calling all over the country, talking to strangers, of courasking them to give money, and the only reason they would give it is if they can count on their adherence to an ideological position,” said Rep. Yarmuth.

Rep. Yarmuth connected the role of money in politics with the absurdity of this debate that we’re stuck in right now. He added that fear of primary challenges on the Republican side are adding to the deadlock.

His amendment strongly emphasizes that money is not speech — rather, that money is property: “Financial expenditures or in-kind equivalent with respect to a candidate for federal office, without regard to whether or not a communication advocates the election or defeat of a specific candidate, shall not constitute protected speech.

Yarmuth said that this is at the heart of the Citizens United decision:

It doesn’t really matter whether corporations are considered people or not if you consider campaign expenditures as free speech. Because then it doesn’t matter who has access to that right. When you deal with just the corporate side of it, you’re still allowing people like the Koch brothers on the right, or even George Soros on the left, to spend millions and millions of dollars in an anonymous way to influence the system. So you need to get at the core of it and “say money spent on elections is not speech.” Therefore the Congress can regulate how much you can spend, if you can spend anything, and who can spend it. If you don’t get at that fundamental question, Congress really can’t regulate.

The second part of his amendment states that “Congress shall have the power to enact a mandatory public financing system to provide funds to qualified candidates in elections for Federal office, which shall be the sole source of funds raised or spent with respect to Federal elections.”

But why not just mandating that Congress must do this?  As Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we would have liked to have done it that way. most of the advice that we got that it would be — that you really can’t tell the Congress to enact a certain policy.”

Section three states “Congress shall set forth a legal public holiday for the purposes of voting in regularly scheduled general elections for Federal office.”  Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we need to have a national commitment to voting and to get out the vote, to make it easier for people to do it. The idea that people have to negotiate work and child care and all of these other logistical things to cast a vote for the most important thing they’ll do as a citizen is nonsense. ”

Rep. Yarmuth said that the Founding Fathers never could have anticipated the millions that would be spent in elections.  “They wanted the right of the individual to go to the town square and say whatever he or she wanted to say. Everybody still has that right. This whole idea of money is speech is something that be fabricated by those who want to buy influence on the system. And people like my senator, Mitch McConnell, have been pounding this home for 25 years now, and he finally got it institutionalized in a Supreme Court decision. It was very, very tragic for the country,” said Rep. Yarmuth.

You can read the full amendment here, and Rep. Yarmuth’s press release on the bipartisan bill here.  What do you think of the Yarmuth-Jones amendment? Let us know here, on Facebook, or @DylanRatigan.

Meg Robertson is a digital producer for


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