2014 US Senate Campaign

Bellows takes heat for election year flip-flop on Citizens United

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An ad released by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Saturday criticized Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows for “flip-flopping” on a proposed constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.

The ad centers on a video clip from November 2013, showing Bellows responding to an audience member questioning her support for a constitutional amendment overruling Citizens United — a Supreme Court ruling that critics say opened the flood gates for the entry of money into politics.

“I’ll be honest, as someone who has spent much of my career defending the constitution, constitutional amendments give me some concern, and this one in particular,” she said. “I get very concerned about the unintended consequences of that constitutional amendment.”

As the former Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Bellows led the organization in opposing the same amendment as unconstitutional. She appears to have continued in her opposition after leaving the ACLU of Maine up to when the video was recorded early in her campaign for U.S. Senate.

By the spring of 2014, Bellows seems to have backed off her hard opposition to an amendment. In an interview with Salon in April, she was asked whether the ACLU’s position on Citizens United was correct. In her response, Bellows steered clear of discussing the constitutionality of Citizens United as well as the ACLU’s position. She said, “I support meaningful campaign finance reform… Maine has a clean elections system, so in the Maine legislature we see a diverse array of elected officials… I think we need to see national public funding mechanisms that are very similar to what we have in Maine…” She does not repeat her past opposition to an amendment. While falling short of endorsing an amendment, she clearly declares her belief that “Citizens United is one of the gravest threats to democracy…”

But, in June, Bellows appears to have pulled a 180 degree change in position. In an email, Bellows announced her new-found support for a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United without any explanation as to what changed her mind:

“You’ve likely seen a flurry of proposals for constitutional amendments that would overturn the ruling in Citizens United. I led the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine for eight years, and I know how serious it is to propose an amendment to the Constitution. That’s why I’m specifically calling for us to pass the Harkin amendment, which would restore constitutional authority to the states and Congress to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures.”

Bellows responded to accusations of flip-flopping this morning on WVOM saying, “This is politics as usual. In the fall, I talked about the constitutional amendments that were on the table that were over-broad. I think it’s really important that any time you’re going to amend the Constitution, we make sure that it’s deliberative; that it’s as narrow as possible. Senator Tom Udall’s Constitutional amendment wasn’t up for a vote last fall, there was a tremendous amount of work done in the spring and the summer, and it is very narrowly constructed so that it would simply answer the question of whether Congress and state legislatures can regulate expenditures and contributions.”

However, Senator Tom Udall’s Constitutional Amendment, the same bill she will be endorsing later today, was on the table last fall at the time the video was recorded, according to Collins’ campaign. Either the candidate was unaware of campaign financing reform efforts at the time, or she has changed her position.

One possible motivation for this change is who is financing Bellows’ campaign. The biggest contributors to Bellows’ campaign, organizations like Democracy for America, MoveOn.org, and Blue America, are all supporters of reversing the Citizens United decision. Could it be that Bellows decision to endorse a constitutional limit on campaign spending was influenced by campaign spending?

Here’s the video from Collins:

Nathan Strout
Maine Wire Reporter

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently producer for the Howie Carr Show. Follow him on Twitter @Stevie_Rob or send him an email at Steve@HowieCarrShow.com.

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