Hello! I am Congressman Jim McGovern, from the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts. Over the past three years, I've been one of the leading voices in Congress to overturn the Supreme Court's misguided decision in Citizens United, which unleashed a flood of corporate and special interest money into the American political system.

I recently introduced two constitutional amendments to that effect. The first amendment, HJ Res 20, advances the fundamental principle of political equality for all by empowering Congress and the States to regulate political spending. It will allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that will withstand Constitutional challenges. The second amendment, HJ Res 21, would overturn Citizens United and put a stop to the growing trend of corporations claiming first amendment rights. This “People’s Rights Amendment” not only addresses corporate rights as they pertain to campaign finance, but is broader in scope to clarify that corporations are not people with Constitutional rights. Importantly, the amendment clearly protects the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association, and all other such rights of the people.

( My floor speech on those two amendments is just about at 100K views on YouTube )

More on me: I dedicate a lot of my time in Congress to human rights and hunger issues as the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the House Hunger Caucus. I'm also the second ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, and a member of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, which has jurisdiction over SNAP, and other nutrition and consumer programs.

I'm a dad, a Red Sox fan, and proud to be from Worcester, MA. Ask me anything!

Proof on Twitter: @RepMcGovern

UPDATE: Thanks for joining me, everyone. This was a lot of fun and I hopfully will get a chance to do it again. Like I said, 10 years ago I never would have thought that a conversation like this would have been possible. I certainly don't have all the answers, but it's really important to have the discussion about money in politics.

Comments: 528 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

ReddiquetteAdvisor556 karma

Hi Congressman McGovern, thanks for doing this IamA! This is a conversation that many of us need to have. I want to see what you think about this issue in depth.

We have to clear up a number of misconceptions about the ruling that I've seen on reddit, and even heard in your own speech on the House floor.

  • Citizens United did not rule that corporations could donate as much money as they want to campaigns. In fact, the court reaffirmed that quid pro quo corruption exists in such a scenario, and it could be regulated and limited by the government. At issue was whether a corporation (in that case, a non-profit) could run its own advertisements advocating for a candidate. The Supreme Court ruled that the government has no interest in picking who can speak and who can't before an election.

  • Citizens United did not rule that "money is speech". If the government could limit how much money you're allowed to spend on speech, they could limit speech. This is long-standing precedent, Citizens United did not invent this concept, and even the liberal justices on the Supreme Court agree.

  • Citizens United did not rule that "corporations are people". Corporations have always been protected under the first amendment, because the first amendment prevents the government from abridging any speech -- whether it's you, your state, a company, a union or a robot. Here's a list of notable SCOTUS rulings that held corporations have first amendment protections:

Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952)

Kingsley Int'l Pictures Corp. v. Regents of Univ. of N.Y. (1959)

New York Times Co. v. United States (1971)

Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo (1974)

Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn

Southeast-ern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad (1975)

Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc. (1975)

Time, Inc. v. Firestone (1976)

Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro (1977)

First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978)

Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps (1986)

Turner Broadcasting v. FCC (1997)

If an amendment relies on any of those arguments, it's bound to fail many logical tests. Let's take your proposed amendment, for example:

SECTION 2. The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

I don't think you realize that the first amendment does not say "people" have free speech. It says that the government cannot abridge any speech. Here's the language:

Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech

This is an incredibly important distinction and it's what protects the government from censoring, say, the NAACP. A good example would be (conveniently) NAACP v. Button:

The state of Virginia argued that it was not regulating the free speech of individual lawyers and citizens, but rather that of a corporation (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and that the U.S. Constitution did not protect the free speech rights of corporations as strongly as it did that of people.

Your law would take away free speech from any organization, period. It would leave it up to Congress and the States to decide. That is terrifying.

Many of the major misconceptions of Citizens United are addressed in this NYTimes article. When you stood on the House floor and said Citizens United resulted in a "dramatic" increase in corporate spending, you were wrong. It's just not true, for many reasons outlined in that article. And if you look at the data (PAC Track) (NYTimes), you'll see that the vast majority of these Super PACs (even in the last election) are predominantly funded by rich individuals -- who were not affected by Citizens United.

It's important to note that before and after Citizens United, rich individuals could spend as much money as they wanted on their own advertisements. But if you and your friends wanted to pool together to run an advertisement advocating for Obama before the election, it was outlawed by the BCRA (the law Citizens United overturned). Instead you had to form a PAC, which limits how much each individual can contribute to fund the advocacy, and requires you to get your advertisements approved by an 11-prong FEC test, attorneys and the whole nine yards.

It's pretty obvious that such a combination results in rich individuals being the number one source of "electioneering communications" while normal people are highly discouraged. Even the ACLU would be prohibited from advocating for Gary Johnson (if they wanted to) under that law. If the ACLU wanted to publish a pamphlet advocating for a candidate, the pamphlet would not only be illegal to distribute but ACLU would be subject to criminal penalties. These restrictions exist in no other area of the law with regards to speech, it's rather unprecedented.

The ACLU, in fact, agrees with the Citizens United ruling and has submitted many comprehensive briefs in support of it.

Quite frankly, these campaign finance laws only serve politicians who want to secure their re-election. Effectively, they want the official campaigns to have a monopoly on advocacy, meaning that the official campaigns get most of the donations. If a union disagrees with Romney, they can't tell people why. Meanwhile, the incumbent politician gets the majority of the 'donations', allowing for this type of corruption to exist in the first place.

It's not just limited to television. In the Citizens United oral arguments, the government attempted to argue that it could ban a book published by a corporation (Amazon/Barnes and Noble/etc.) before an election if even one sentence advocated for Obama. In the Citizens United case they were talking about an on-demand cable feature. Naturally, these restrictions scale up to everything from pamplets to blog posts. Indeed, in the ruling they stated:

Today, 30-second television ads may be the most effective way to convey a political message. See McConnell, supra, at 261 (opinion of SCALIA, J.). Soon, however, it may be that Internet sources, such as blogs and social networking Web sites, will provide citizens with significant information about political candidates and issues. Yet, §441b would seem to ban a blog post expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate if that blog were created with corporate funds. See 2 U. S. C. §441b(a); MCFL, supra, at 249. The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.

People also need to abandon the notion that if the other side speaks more, they will win the election. Karl Rove's Super PAC was an absolute failure, the vast majority of the candidates they sponsored with hundreds of millions of dollars in advocacy ended up losing anyway. The same went for the Koch brothers. You can't speak your way to the office. People will vote in their own self-interest if you give them a free and unencumbered debate. If you allow everybody to put forth arguments, not just the Republican and Democratic party's official campaign committees, you will have a truly democratic system. (You may even get some worthwhile third parties!)

Many other huge contradictions exist in the idea that the government can prevent "corporations" from advocating for a candidate. In the BCRA they excluded "media" corporations from the limit, even though they also fit within the exact description of the "antidistortion rationale" used to justify the law. And why exactly do people on the left want unions to not be able to advocate for a candidate? They consist of, and are funded entirely by, individuals. Yet they cannot advocate for Obama before an election? You call that free speech?

I believe people are smart enough to vote in their own interests, and assess the speech of others as well. If we start down the road of "protecting" people from speech that might change their minds, we could justify insulating the public from debate entirely. This appears to be the foundation of your argument.

I really recommend that people read the Citizens United ruling. Read the dissent too. Google, wikipedia, whatever it takes. You should not play around with Constitutional amendments unless you are absolutely sure.

repmcgovern39 karma

"Your law would take away free speech from any organization, period. It would leave it up to Congress and the States to decide. That is terrifying." No, it wouldn't. In fact it specifically reaffirms the right to free speech. What it would do is allow Congress to regulate secretive, corporate super-pacs that call themselves "Americans for Apple Pie and Puppies" to deliver unlimited funds. I obviously disagree with you, but this is exactly what we need - a thoughtful discussion on an issue that not enough people pay attention to. As someone who has been in Congress since 1997, it is my opinion that excessive amounts of money are polluting our political system. It is not good for our democracy; we need to do something about it; let's have that debate.

EastVegas22 karma

Pete Sessions says he will beat the shit out of you. So what you gon' do?

repmcgovern118 karma

Texans don't scare me.

shumeister22 karma

How do you feel about marijuana legalization? Do you believe it will ever be legal in the United States on a federal level? I heard about a bill being introduced in Congress but people are saying it won't get very far. What are your thoughts on this?

repmcgovern27 karma

I'm looking at legislation that will likely be introduced. Unclear in a Republican House how much traction it will get, but I'm open to considering it.

DunDerD20 karma

Hi Congressman I am from Clinton, MA even though you do not represent my district I was curious what you thought about the recent leaked memo about the assassination of US citizens with no due process.

repmcgovern56 karma

I am deeply troubled and believe that the Administration owes us -- Congress and the American people -- some answers and some clarity on their policy.

Clinic214 karma

As your last name is McGovern, did you always want to be a politician? =)

repmcgovern41 karma

No. I thought I'd probably end up working in my father's package store (liquor store). But I interned for George McGovern in college (no relation), he became my dearest friend and my hero, and my inspiration. I was privileged to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. I was a congressional staffer for 14 years for Rep. Joe Moakley before I ran and won in 1996. McGovern taught to me to believe that one person can change the world, and Joe Moakley showed me how to do it.

csommer50312 karma

Hello Rep. McGovern; thanks for doing this. How many co-sponsors do you have for your bill? Is Rep. Shrader (OR) one of them?

repmcgovern15 karma

12 on each bill. Rep. Shrader isn't yet.

mcswiss11 karma

What suggestions and guidelines would you give to a teenager looking to become a member of the House of Rep/Congress when they are of age?

repmcgovern16 karma

Intern in your local congressional office, get active/involved in campaigns and causes you feel deeply about, and if you want to run, then run. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't or shouldn't. I believe politics can be a noble endeavor.

PoliticsandMoneyDude10 karma

Hi Congressman McGovern - thanks for the AMA and for your efforts to scale back the Citizen United decision.

Can you tell us how we should interpret PAC contributions to your campaign? For example Norfolk Southern donate the maximum $10,000 to your 2012 campaign. Do they donate because they want access to you or do they donate because they believe in your ideology?

If a PAC donates the maximum $10,000 will they have greater access to you? Do they receive any special treatment when they want to discuss upcoming legislation? Do you think this system of pay-to-play also needs to be reformed?

How do the $10,000 contributions from Raytheon Co, Union Pacific Corp, CSX Corp and others effect the way you govern as a congressman? If these contributions have no effect on you, then why do these organizations take their time and money to donate in the first place?

repmcgovern4 karma

It's a fair question. I am not going to unilaterally disarm. The system stinks, but it's the system we have if you want to run for office. If you want to change it, I hope you'll join with me in the effort to change how we finance campaigns.

Deuce_1979 karma

How much of your day is spent on fundraising activities and does your party pressure you to do more when it comes to fundraising? Thanks for your time.

repmcgovern13 karma

I spend as little time as possible, much to the chagrin of my campaign staff. One of the reason i want campaign finance reform is i believe members of Congress spend way too much time dialing for dollars. This is not a good system. I have 'dues' for the DCCC that I'm expected to raise. $200K last cycle, and I'm expected to raise $ for other candidates.

teddygrahamdispenser8 karma

Hi Jim, I live in Worcester and I wanted to thank you for your part (securing federal funding and whatnot) in making the City Square project finally happen. It's a really, really good thing for the downtown area of the city and probably would've never actually happened without your help. So, thank you!

repmcgovern2 karma

I'm really proud of the progress we've made in downtown Worcester. Lots of partnerships with Lt. Gov., local officials and the private sector (including colleges and universities) to make it happen. More work to do, though!

theHagueface8 karma

Hello Jim,

MA resident here. I was happy to see a resolution to overturn Citizen's United on my ballot this past election. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority - i believe about 4:1.


How can we translate this momentum into a Consitutional Amendment. The people clearly want this. What are the road blocks preventing Congress from adopting your Amendment?

repmcgovern9 karma

Big money, big corporations and members of Congress who benefit from the status quo. One of the purposes of my amendments is to begin the discussion.

spartansrock268 karma


repmcgovern24 karma

With Barney gone, I think Linda Sanchez (CA) in the House and Al Franken in the Senate.

2WAR7 karma

Who is the biggest scumbag in congress?

repmcgovern84 karma

I don't have nearly that much time ...

sgshaw7 karma

How is it that the House only allows bills to come to the floor if they are supported by a majority of the majority party (currently Republicans)? This amounts to rule by a minority of the members. Why is this allowed? Isn't there a more democratic (small d) way of proceeding?

repmcgovern14 karma

That's the way the Rules of the House are structured. The Speaker controls the calendar. Technically, there is something called a 'discharge petition' whereby if 218 Members sign then a bill automatically goes to the floor, but these are very very rare.

goofygoobarock6 karma

Just a question about congress life in general: Do you ever "hang out" with your fellow congressmen? If so, does it get awkward when you vote differently on something you both feel passionately about?

repmcgovern8 karma

Sometimes we hang out. It doesn't usually get awkward - we try not to talk 'shop' in social settings. But we're all grown-ups. We understand that we all have different points of view and different constituencies.

NotMathMan8215 karma

Hi congressman. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us here today.

My questions are:

How has the technology available today changed the way in which you approach your role as a congressman?

And how do you see technology impacting the political landscape in the future with services such as Twitter and this Reddit AMA granting easy and direct access between the people and their representatives?

repmcgovern15 karma

10 years ago I never thought I'd be doing this. But I appreciate the fact that technology has made it easier for people to communicate with me and vice versa. That's a good thing. One issue, though - I get lots of "petitions" here in the office that many people don't even realize they electronically 'signed.' When you had to put pen to paper, it resulted in more thoughtful correspondence. So I would urge people to take a little time when communicating with their elected representatives. It goes a long way.

tomizzo115 karma

Being in a country with over 300 million people, don't you believe there is a need for massive amount of campaign spending to reach out to these people? A more direct question would be, how would campaigning with less money be more beneficial to Americans?

repmcgovern27 karma

We need a system with greater access to the public airwaves for anyone who wants to run. The notion that you are only a serious candidate if you have lots and lots of money seems contrary to who we are. Members who raise millions of dollars from the oil industry will be influenced by that industry. We need to empower people, and not Big Money special interests.

CaptainApathy4194 karma

Thanks for doing this.

Do you think there's a real chance that Congress will pass immigration reform this year or are we doomed to repeat the 2005-2006 efforts?

Also, what's your favorite Barney Frank story?

repmcgovern10 karma

I'm encouraged that there is a bipartisan group talking about imm. reform. I'm hopeful, but it has to happen this year before we head into another election season. I have a million Barney Frank stories. Most of them aren't family-friendly. I miss him a lot.

teenqueen664 karma

Constituent here, just want to say how awesome you are and how proud I am every time I get to vote for you. Your speech in Worcester got me off my butt and got me volunteering on the Warren campaign. Thanks for fighting the good fight for those that can't!

repmcgovern3 karma

Thanks for your hard work! That was a great grassroots campaign.

Lannister4LifeYolo4 karma

Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck? Also explain why

repmcgovern31 karma

I'll take the duck. I enjoy pate.

cvbrown2 karma

I am very interested to know of your colleagues who are also involved in this discussion. What is the interest in the Senate?

repmcgovern8 karma

Bernie Sanders, Tom Udall are two who have been active. We're trying to find a senator to introduce the People's Rights Amendment this year.

SicilianDeathMatch2 karma

What's your favorite local pizza shop?

Followup question: what are your favorite pizza toppings?

repmcgovern18 karma

Burncoat Pizza and the Wonder Bar - both in Worcester - are two favorites. Pepperoni, sausage, onions and peppers.

redavalanche1 karma

Hello Congressman, thank you for doing this AMA. I am also quite upset by the Citizens United ruling and its consequences, but I do have a question.

If the ruling is overturned or negated through an amendment, how do you intend to reconcile the issue of corporations not having necessary rights to conduct business (such as the right to own property, the right to free speech etc) with your proposed amendment?

repmcgovern4 karma

Those are two separate areas - property rights are commonlaw rights under state laws. On free speech, my amendment specifically makes it cleat that people maintain the right to free speech and free press. But the notion that the artificial corporate entity, created under state law, should enjoy the same fundamental constitutional rights as citizens is just wrong, in my view. NY Times did a great editorial on this ...

repmcgovern3 karma

I never say 'never,' but I really like being in the House. My goal is to someday chair the House Rules Committee like my old boss, Joe Moakley.

TLinden311 karma

Do you have any job openings in your office(s)?

repmcgovern6 karma

Sorry to say, not right now - but we can always hire more interns!

ken272381 karma

In what would you say is something the state of Massachusetts is great at? Conversely, what would you say is something Massachusetts needs to work on?

repmcgovern13 karma

We're great at education, k-12 and higher ed, great at innovation, medical research. We need to improve our infrastructure, better support our agriculture and keep moving toward green, clean energy. Also, a better Red Sox season would be nice.

Fan0packers1 karma

How does it feel to have your Governor Romney (Opposing Party), run for president, and lose? Even though he was from your home state, was there upsetting feelings on the election results for you, or are you strictly supportive for your party?


repmcgovern3 karma

I was a strong supporter of President Obama's because I thought his policies were better for the country. I want to end the War in Afghanistan, more investment in our country and a greater focus on ending poverty and hunger in America.

DannyDawg0 karma

Congressman, do you still believe in the American Dream?

repmcgovern4 karma

Yes. Absolutely. It's gotten much too hard for too many people, but I still believe that our best days are ahead. I'm an optimist.

theHagueface0 karma

What are your thoughts on The Peoples' Pledge that Warren and Brown made in the last election that severely limited outside group spending?

Do you think this model could be replicated?

repmcgovern8 karma

I thought it was a good thing. But even with the pledge, Brown and Warren both had to raise about $45 million apiece. I'm glad Warren run -- VERY glad -- but I'm troubled by all the money that has to be raised to run for Senate. Or House.

j_____-5 karma

Are you aware that the people's amendment will effectively null and void the 13th amendment of the constitution? I am a constituent of yours, sir.

repmcgovern9 karma

It does no such thing.