Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Tuesday accused Democrats of abandoning the Bill of Rights by trying to amend the First Amendment so Congress has the right to regulate spending on political campaigns.
"For over two centuries, Congress has not dared to mess with the Bill of Rights," Cruz said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Democratic legislation to amend the Constitution.
"When did elected Democrats abandon the Bill of Rights?" he asked.
Most Senate Democrats support the idea of changing the Constitution to give Congress the power to regulate spending on federal political campaigns. Earlier in the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said "dark money" from unknown sources is flooding the political system, and that Congress needs to impose limits.
But Republicans roundly criticized this idea throughout the hearing as an attack on the First Amendment right to free speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) started by saying Democrats should be embarrassed by the proposal.
Cruz went further by saying most Americans would be shocked to hear Democrats are looking at the idea at all.
"This amendment here today, if adopted, would repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment. When citizens hear that, they gasp," Cruz said. "This amendment, if adopted, would give Congress absolute authority to regulate the political speech of every single American, which no limitations whatsoever."
Cruz also noted that past Senate Democrats, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), opposed the idea of changing the First Amendment to address political speech. But he said today, most Democrats favor the idea of an amendment.
"Forty-two Democrats have signed their name to a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to muzzle Planned Parenthood and the National Right to Life," Cruz said. "Forty-two Democrats have signed their name to giving Congress the right to muzzle the Sierra Club, to muzzle the National Rifle Association and the Brady Center on Handgun Violence."
"The senators who put their name to this should be embarrassed that they have signed up for repealing the free speech amendment, the First Amendment," he said.
Democrats are proposing to amend the Constitution in response to two Supreme Court cases — Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC. The first decision prohibits the government from limiting how companies and other groups spend money on campaigns. The second ends aggregate limits what people can contribute overall during a campaign cycle, although it keeps in place limits on how much can be given to an individual candidate or a political group.
Cruz proposed two bills today to counter the Democratic proposal. One is the SuperPAC Elimination Act, which would eliminate caps on contributions to candidates entirely, but require those contributions to be disclosed publicly.
Cruz's second bill seeks to harmonize free speech rules between people and corporations.