Senate Democrats Push Amendment that Could Neuter Saturday Night Live, Nets Don't Care

Saturday Night Live returned from its summer hiatus this week but if Democrats had succeeded in their September 11 vote to amend the Constitution there wouldn’t be any more political skits on the 40 year-old comedy institution.

According to Senator Ted Cruz the Constitutional amendment, that would’ve been an end-around the First Amendment, would’ve given Congress the power to restrict political speech - even of the humorous kind found on SNL.

So how much Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) coverage was devoted to the Democrats’ bid to bypass the First Amendment? Just one discussion, sparked by Cruz’s SNL comment, on the September 14 edition of ABC’s This Week.

The proposed amendment by Senate Democrats was a reaction to recent Supreme Court decisions that have struck down various campaign finance laws. However the bill failed to gain the 60 votes it needed because as Politico comically put it: “Senate Republicans unanimously rejected a constitutional amendment sought by Democrats that would allow Congress to regulate campaign finance reform.” Politico could’ve easily re-phrased that to read “Senate Republicans unanimously rejected a constitutional amendment sought by Democrats that would allow Congress to override the First Amendment.”

The only network mention of the vote on the Senate Democrats’ attempt to amend the First Amendment came during the following discussion on the September 14 edition of ABC’s This Week:

JONATHAN KARL: I love watching “SNL” tear up the campaign trail, but could these political comedy skits become illegal? Senator Ted Cruz says yes, if supporters of campaign finance reform get their way.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: Lorne Michaels could be put in jail under this amendment.

KARL: In its Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court allowed unlimited corporate contributions to campaigns calling it free speech. But this week, Democrat Tom Udall pushed a constitutional amendment to change that. It would allow Congress and states to restrict campaign spending. Cruz helped block the bill, claiming those rules could limit corporate-owned TV networks from political speech, like comedy skits. Democrats say Cruz is way off base. So would campaign finance changes really kill campaign comedy and is the Citizens United decision here to stay? Let's take a look on our Facebook find of the week.

All right. Well, I don't think anybody is going to be outlawing “Saturday Night Live” skits regardless of what happens, but how big a factor is outside money in this race compared to where we were in 2010?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There will be several million dollars spent over the next five weeks as the candidates try to solidify the votes. This is going to be the most expensive midterm on record. I mean, we saw over a billion dollars in a presidential year. You're looking at close to a billion dollars in a midterm election. There's no reason why we should have this kind of money in elections.

MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS: The problem with all this campaign finance reform stuff that we see is every time they pass some campaign finance reform to fix the last problem, a new problem is created in the midst of this. For two people that have been very involved in campaigns really before all this, I don't think this is good for people that run campaigns. You lose track of the message. You lose track of any kind of mechanics you can do and all this outside money complicates everything and confuses voters. I think it ought to go, but it looks like it's here to stay.

KARL: But you wouldn’t favor a constitutional amendment on this.

BRAZILE: I would.

DOWD: I would actually favor some system to get a lot of the ads that we see off the air. I don't think for free press you can sort of ban this and, again, campaign finance reform is we've been changed, changed, changed, and we keep coming up with new things.

BRAZILE: This is a grassroots movement and it will not end simply because the Senate Republicans voted to stop it.

(H/T) Cleta Mitchell for highlighting the Politico article at the MRC 2014 Gala.

— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.