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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) made a religious-right audience gasp in horror when he announced that Senate Democrats were on a warpath “to repeal the First Amendment.” Addressing a terrified audience of conservative pastors in Washington, D.C., Cruz assured his listeners that he “was not making this up,” and that Democrats were really and truly attempting to do away with such honored rights as freedom of speech, the press, and religion.

In the words of Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler: Really, Senator Cruz? Really?

Cruz’s bold claim was inspired by Senator Tom Udall’s (D-NM) proposed Constitutional amendment that would grant the federal government the “power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents for federal political campaigns.” Nowhere in the amendment does Udall suggest repealing the First Amendment.

According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, “In our society, spending is speech.” As such, it seems that Cruz has conflated the Democrats’ attempts to curb Big Money’s influence on policy and politics with an attack on the wealthy’s First Amendment rights.

In reality, Udall’s amendment is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling and the more recent McCutcheon, which have eroded limitations on campaign donations. Recent studies by professors at Yale and the University of California, Berkeley have suggested that individuals with the means to make significant financial contributions have better access to politicians, lending statistical evidence to support the widely held assumption that “financial resources translate into political power.” Consequently, eliminating contribution ceilings gives even greater influence to the wealthy donor class whose money serves as a megaphone in the political arena. Udall’s amendment — which is strongly supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has said he will force “multiple votes” on the issue — attempts to restore some equality in political representation.

Of course, this is not how Cruz views the amendment. Rather, the ultra-conservative senator told onlookers at the Family Research Council event that the amendment would give Congress the ability “to muzzle each and every one of you.” Ostensibly, when Cruz says that the government will “muzzle” pastors, he is speaking of the amendment’s aim of capping campaign contributions. But religious institutions — specifically churches, synagogues, mosques, and/or temples — are considered tax-exempt non-profits by the IRS, which means that they are prohibited from participating in, contributing to, or interfering with any political campaigns. In fact, the IRS expressly states:

Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

Therefore, if Udall’s amendment were to pass, Cruz’s audience would be unaffected, because they are and would remain unable to financially influence public official elections.

Moreover, Cruz’s claims that the amendment grants Congress “unlimited authority” to “regulate political speech” is equally untrue. The senator seems to believe that Congress would receive unprecedented power to check campaign donations. But what he has conveniently forgotten is that before Citizens United, there were ceilings in place to ensure that no individual (or individuals) could give unlimited cash to campaigns or candidates. So really, the amendment would simply return the campaign contribution landscape to its pre-2010 state, not create a new era of total government control.

For Cruz, however, Congress’ audacity to suggest that more money should not mean more influence places the United States in “perilous, perilous times.” The senator continued his histrionic rant by saying, “elected officials have decided they don’t like it when the citizenry has the temerity to criticize what they’ve done.” Because for Cruz, criticism comes in the form of a check.

And while the amendment explicitly says nothing “shall abridge the freedom of the press,” Cruz takes issue with the fact that the amendment does not proceed to list every other aspect that will be unaffected, including freedom of speech and religious liberty. By this logic, because the amendment does not mention the guarantee of kittens’ safety, we may also assume that upon its passage, all kittens will be in immediate danger.

Luckily for Cruz, the likelihood of passage is slim — only 27 amendments have been ratified in the course of American history, as the process is long and difficult. However, regardless of the amendment’s chances, the probability that Ted Cruz has officially lost his mind — judging by these kinds of absurd claims — seems higher every day.

Photo: jbouie via Flickr

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