Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 | 9:16 a.m.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate’s top Democrat and top Republican testified today at opposite ends of a proposed constitutional amendment to give Congress power to limit outside spending in campaigns.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, left his duties running the Senate to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a Democratic-proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit super PACs.
“I am here because the flood of dark money into our nation’s political system poses the greatest threat to our democracy that I have witnessed during my tenure in public service,” Reid said.
National elections have shattered records for outside spending since a series of Supreme Court rulings in 2010 and 2012 opened up campaign spending to corporations and mega-donors.
The tally for the 2012 presidential campaign hit $100 billion, close to the previous 10 presidential elections combined, and the 2014 elections are on pace to be the most expensive midterms ever, with outside spending already at $100 million, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.
Republicans, however, argue such a proposal amounts to limiting free speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the amendment would allow a party in the majority to better tweak campaign finance laws to benefit it.
“When it comes to free speech, we shouldn’t substitute the incumbent-protection desires of politicians for the protection the Constitution guarantees to all Americans,” he said.
Tuesday’s hearing is better viewed as election-year posturing than an actual attempt at reforming campaign finance laws.
Amending the nation’s Constitution is an extremely difficult task, made especially less likely in today’s hyper-partisan environment.
But the presence of the Senate’s two party leaders at today’s hearing on the issue underscores just how close the Senate is to switching hands in November. Many pundits say it’s a toss up.