The Minnesota Senate already passed legislation calling on Congress to overturn Citizens United, the controversial 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. Now, the House is trying to do the same thing. The bill's chief author, Rep. Ray Dehn, D-Minneapolis, says as things stand right now, the House vote will come down to a "thin margin."
"We've hovering right around the number of votes necessary to pass it," Dehn tells us. "We need to make sure we have the votes before we bring it to the floor."
The bill is a joint resolution "requesting that Congress propose a constitutional amendment and, if Congress does not propose an amendment, applying to Congress to call a constitutional convention to propose an amendment clarifying that the rights protected under the Constitution are the rights of natural persons and not the rights of artificial entities and that spending money to influence elections is not speech under the First Amendment."
If 34 states (including Minnesota) pass similar legislation, Congress would be forced to call America's second ever constitutional convention. But one of the bill's supporters, House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said that prospect makes some of his colleagues nervous.
"If we were to call a constitutional convention, it wouldn't necessarily be limited to Citizens United and the impact of money on politics but could spread into all sorts of other issues," Thissen says. "Many supporters tend to be more on the liberal side, but if their state sends conservative delegates you could have things like balanced budget amendments."
"You don't know what could come out of it and you could lose control," Thissen continues. "This convention would have the power arguably not just to shape [campaign finance law] but the whole constitution -- the Equal Protection Clause could be altered, any number of those kinds of things."
But both Thissen and Dehn think whatever risks a constitutional convention presents would be worth navigating for the sake of striking down Citizens United.
"I think there's no question that the impact of money and viewing corporations as people has really deformed our political process and we need to do something about it," Thissen says.
As far as the vote tally goes, Dehn admits he's "had difficulty getting Republicans on board."
"The fear of overturning Citizens United is that individuals would then be governed on what they spend as private citizens regarding elections," Dehn says. "So although I've spoken to a few [Republicans] that support [the bill], getting a vote for it is a different thing."
Some have questioned the lack of media coverage House File 276 has received
but Dehn doesn't attribute that to any sort of media conspiracy. "I just think the media wants to cover issues that directly have an impact on peoples' everyday lives, as compared to something like Citizens United that only rears its head around election time, and quite frankly I would say that the regular citizen doesn't quite understand the complexity of financing around elections and how that happens," Dehn says. "So clearly there's been a lack of coverage, but it doesn't surprise me."
Nonetheless, Dehn pushes back against the notion HF 276 is merely symbolic. "The goal is to get close to 34 states and have Congress realize that this is serious and they need to put forward an amendment to the states," Dehn says. "It's not just symbolic -- the goal is to be part of a coalition of other states trying to get Congress to act."
Thissen says he expects the House to hold a floor vote on the bill shortly after the legislature returns from its spring break next week.