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National Editorials & Columns

York: Democrats willing to change Constitution in fight against Koch brothers’ spending

It’s no longer news when Majority Leader Harry Reid takes to the floor of the Senate to denounce the Koch brothers. But most Americans probably don’t know that Reid and many of his Democratic colleagues now want to amend the U.S. Constitution in far-reaching ways to put an end to the conservative billionaires’ political influence.

“The shadowy Koch brothers are attempting ... a hostile takeover of American democracy,” Reid charged recently. “No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into a political campaign.”

Reid urged his fellow lawmakers to support a proposed constitutional amendment, written by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall and co-sponsored by 40 of the Senate’s 55 Democrats, that would give Congress the right to regulate all political contributions and all spending of any kind in all federal elections. (It would also give states the power to do the same in state elections.) The Supreme Court has held such far-reaching restrictions to be unconstitutional, which is why Reid wants to take the extreme step of changing the nation’s founding document.

“Amending our Constitution is not something we take lightly,” Reid said. “But the flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the greatest threats our system of government has ever faced.”

The Udall amendment is brief. This is the heart of it:

“Congress shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections, including setting limits on (1) the amount of contributions to candidates for nomination for election to, or for election to, federal office, and (2) the amount of funds that may be spent by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.”

The amendment would grant incredible power to Congress: the authority to regulate every dollar raised and every dollar spent by every campaign and every outside group in every federal race in America. It would do the same for non-monetary, or “in-kind” contributions – that is, when a person or organization contributes goods or services to a campaign. If Reid had his way, the U.S. Constitution would include the phrase “in-kind equivalents.”

Privately, some Hill Republicans see the move as a Democratic effort to bait GOP leaders into defending the Kochs. Which would of course be followed by more Democratic denunciations of the Kochs.

As far as the amendment itself is concerned, there’s not a chance in the world Democrats will succeed. Amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both House and Senate, and then approval by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. It won’t happen.

But the very fact that Democrats plan to seriously consider a constitutional amendment born of an election-year strategy to silence a pair of big conservative contributors suggests how far Reid and his colleagues would go to crack down on political adversaries. Is any temporary partisan advantage worth such a radical step?

• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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