Following the approval of House Joint Memorial 6 by a 17-13 vote in the Oregon Senate today, Oregon became the 16th state to call for an amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases.
The passage of HJM6, first introduced in January by Representative Brian Clem, is the result of a grassroots mobilization effort by the people of Oregon. In 2012 alone, 12 Oregon cities and counties passed local resolutions urging state and federal legislators to call for a constitutional amendment taking back our democracy from corporations and special interests. The mobilization at the state level was led by Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy, a coalition that gathered signatures and endorsements in support of HJM6.
The joint memorial urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations” and recognizing “that Congress and state legislatures may regulate all moneys raised and spent for political purposes.”
Rep. Jules Bailey, speaking to the Oregon House last week, urged his fellow representatives to support the measure, saying, “When we confuse the monolith with the individual, then a piece of our humanity dies. Let us ask Congress to undo this mistake.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 48-11 on June 21st before being sent to the Senate.
With each additional state joining the movement to overturn Citizens United and related decisions, the will of the American people becomes clearer. We will not let our elections be bought and sold. We will not let corporate power subvert the will of the people.
Now that the smoke has cleared, it appears that the IRS scandal that has consumed right-wing media for weeks is not much of a scandal at all. The original story that the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative groups has dramatically shifted thanks to new documents revealed by the Associated Press showing that the tax agency also targeted groups with liberal keywords in their name, such as “progressive” and “occupy.”
While the IRS may have exhibited some poor judgment, the agency was not waging partisan warfare. Nor was it carrying out any of the false right-wing conspiracy theories outlined yesterday by Right Wing Watch.
PFAW president Michael Keegan argued last month that the lesson being pulled from the blunders of the IRS was the wrong one. While conservatives across the nation cried scandal and used IRS activity to condemn big government, Keegan wrote,
“The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.”
The recent revelation that the IRS was targeting liberal groups as well as conservative ones confirms this message. Unharnessed and unaccountable spending is the real problem – not oversight.
Strong campaign finance laws lead to more competitive elections and a greater influence from small donors, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The report, released in May, examines state-level elections to gauge the impact of campaign finance laws. Titled "Evidencing a Republican Form of Government: The Influence of Campaign Money on State-Level Elections," it follows the finances of candidates in each state, looking at their donors, expenditures, and disclosures, providing evidence of the deleterious effects that unrestrained campaign spending has on our democracy.
States with high or no contribution limits, for one, have dramatically fewer competitive races than those with public financing. For example, the Institute found that only 6 percent of 2010 elections in Georgia were competitive, compared with 75 percent of elections in Maine. Not coincidentally, Georgia has relatively high contribution limits, with winning candidates raising a median amount of $50,425, while Maine uses public financing and had a much lower fundraising median of $5,844.
Further, removing limits on contributions also appears to crowd out small donors. In Texas, a state where individuals are allowed to contribute unlimited sums directly to campaigns, the median fundraising gap between winners and losers for 2010 was a whopping $255,318. Meanwhile, just 4 percent of 2010 donations in the state were under $250, while 59 percent exceeded $10,000. In fact, the Institute’s data reveals that in Texas, nearly half of all political donations came from a few hundred people. In contrast, in Colorado, which has much stricter contribution limits, the equivalent half of all contributions came from about 35,000 people. The Institute found this pattern to be present in all 50 states.
Lax campaign finance law has a double effect: not only does it reduce the competitiveness of political races, allowing candidates with money to simply overwhelm their opponents with tides of spending, but it also drastically reduces small-donor participation in politics, concentrating power and influence in the hands of those with deep pockets. This, of course, is a problem – as DEMOS has pointed out, the elite “donor class” often has vastly different policy priorities than those of most Americans.
As corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interests continue to adjust their election strategies in the wake of Citizens United, pouring ever more money into political campaigns, the conclusions of this report are cause for worry. Fortunately, the American people are not sitting idly by while our democracy is threatened. We are mobilizing.
In yet another state, the American people have made it clear that we will not allow our elections to be bought and sold.
Recent months have seen Delaware legislators and local advocates busy collecting signatures for a letter to Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Carney, asking them and their colleagues in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Working with Common Cause Delaware, PFAW has been on the front lines of this initiative. Last month Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan went “door to door” with PFAW members and allies in the state legislature urging lawmakers to sign onto the letter.
Following their hard work, Delaware today became the fifteenth state to go on record calling for an amendment to reclaim our democracy. Signed by the majority of lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support, today’s victory means that 30% of our nation’s states have called for such an amendment. Four of those states – West Virginia, Maine, Illinois, and now Delaware – have made their position official in just the last two months.
The tide is turning. The momentum is undeniable. As the letter points out, “There is no more critical foundation to our government than citizens’ confidence in fair and free elections.” Today’s victory – as well as those in other states and those in states still to come – makes clear that Americans are taking back our elections.
With all eyes on Illinois today for a possible marriage equality vote, the Illinois General Assembly took another important action – they called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Following on the heels of West Virginia and Maine last month, today’s action makes Illinois the fourteenth state to call for such a resolution.
The Rock River Times reports:
“The effort in Illinois was bipartisan, underscoring what poll data have shown: People of all political stripes are deeply concerned about corporations having too much influence over our democratic process. A measure calling for a constitutional amendment was on ballots across Illinois in November, and was supported by three-quarters of voters.”
Indeed, in Illinois and across the country, Americans of all “political stripes” are making clear that they do not want a democracy ruled by corporate spending. And with each additional state that goes on record supporting the movement to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests, that momentum grows even stronger.
It was the tiring but rewarding work of democracy in action.
PFAW Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan recently joined PFAW members and ally organizations Common Cause Delaware and Public Citizen in meeting with Delaware Senators and Representatives, asking them to sign a letter calling for a Constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Going “door to door” in the state legislature, the advocates held meetings with lawmakers about the importance of reclaiming our democracy from corporations and wealthy special interests. By the end of the day, the advocates were exhausted but buoyed by the positive responses they had received from public officials on both sides of the aisle.
“The United States of America’s elections should not be permitted to go to the highest bidder, and yet this is the risk that rises from the ashes of the Citizens United decision. This risk must be abated.”
From grassroots advocacy in Delaware to tracking money in politics legislation across the country, PFAW continues to speak out about that risk. And as President Michael Keegan wrote in an action alert last month,
“Our national movement to get unlimited corporate and special interest money out of our elections is growing stronger by the day.”
In Los Angeles, California, a group of specialists in media, advertising and entertainment, joined by business people, lawyers, and civic activists have founded an organization that is running advertisements based solely on the need to amend the Constitution to fix our political campaign finance system. The group, Fix Our America, has begun the process of running the following advertisement on airwaves in California, and is seeking to run more ads in other media markets across the country:
These advertisements are boosting the amendment dialogue in California, a state that has witnessed much grassroots amendment activity yet is still in need of deep reform. Just days ago, Los Angeles voters approved Ballot Measure C, which called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, with 77% of the vote; last year, the California state legislature passed an amendment resolution “to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people”; and since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010, over 75 California municipalities have called on Congress and the states to pass and ratify an amendment to overturn Citizens United.
California does not stand alone. The amendment movement is well underway and gaining momentum in states across the country. Fix Our America is yet another example of the American people joining together in protest of the fundamental threat that corporate and special interest campaign spending poses to our democratic institutions. In the words of Fix Our America’s Declaration of Principles Statement, “Americans deserve the best. Instead, we have been saddled with a system that … leaves all of us at the mercy of those who buy legislation and policy to suit their narrow interests.” The time has come to fix that.
Amid Congressional hearings and an unending stream of pointed fingers, what is the real takeaway from the unfolding IRS mess? United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard has the answer, arguing that our country needs to rethink the role of corporate money in our elections by passing a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision.
In an In These Times article Tuesday, Gerard called for such an amendment, writing that
“while every politician in Washington is cursing the carbuncle, hardly one has complained of the cancer killing the patient. Allowing unlimited, unaccounted-for corporate spending in elections is a malignancy threatening the life of the republic.”
PFAW President Michael Keegan has also spoken out about the danger of allowing the IRS misdeeds to be held up as an example of the perils of oversight writ large.
In a Huffington Post piece last week, he noted,
“The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.”
As both writers remind us, the IRS should never base its work on the political leanings of applicant groups. But where our real focus should lie in this national dialogue is on how to strengthen transparency and accountability in all electoral spending.
A resolution supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Trade Commission and related cases was passed by the Maine Senate and House today, making Maine the thirteenth state to call for such an amendment. The vote was bipartisan in both chambers.
“As more and more states call for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases, it becomes increasingly clear that the American people are serious about taking back our democracy from wealthy special interests,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “In Maine and across the nation, Americans are working to protect our democracy from the flood of corporate and special interest spending ushered in by the Citizens United decision. The passage of this resolution is an exciting step forward for Maine and for the country.”
The state of New York has become an embarrassing example of what can happen when money is allowed to rule politics. Earlier this month, for instance, two state lawmakers were arrested on corruption charges. It's a story that has become all too familiar in Albany, where a pervasive culture of corruption has led to the convictions of at least 13 state elected officials in the last ten years.
But New York and its governor, Andrew Cuomo, now have an opportunity to shed the state's pay-to-play image and lead the nation in fighting corruption. Good government advocates are pushing for the state to adopt a public financing system based on one that has met with success in New York City. The plan, which would provide matching funds for small donors, would help give candidates without big party or corporate backing the chance to compete in statewide elections. It would allow more voices to be heard in the political process and ensure that elected offices won't be handed to the highest bidder.
The Syracuse Post-Standard, in endorsing the measure, wrote, "There will always be more pressing spending priorities for taxpayer money. But when those priorities are thrown out of whack by the influence of big money on our politicians, something fundamental has to change." And all too often in New York, the priorities of voters are being superseded by the priorities of big campaign donors.
Shortly after the latest scandal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to increase the penalties on state lawmakers accused of graft. That measure is useful, but on its own is not enough to change the culture in Albany. The public financing proposal, which would provide a meaningful solution to the problem of big money in New York politics, needs the governor's active support. So far, although supportive, Gov.Cuomo has not expended the energy in support of the measure needed for it to pass. He now has the chance to weigh in more forcefully and distinguish himself as a national leader on clean elections. With his full-throated endorsement, the measure would have a strong chance of becoming law, and New York could go from being one of the clearest examples of corrupt government to become a national model of reform.
Since the Supreme Court's outrageous Citizens United decision, which unleashed unlimited and unaccountable corporate spending into national politics, Americans have become increasingly wary of big-money influence in elections. A poll late last year found that 90 percent of Americans thought there was too much money in politics -- true bipartisan agreement! 84 percent agreed that "corporate money drowns out the voices of ordinary people." That's a lot of distrust from almost everybody in this country.
As a national movement to overturn Citizens United gains support, states and cities are leading the way with innovative and popular good government measures. New York, with Gov. Cuomo's support, could go from being a symbol of corruption to having some of the strongest clean elections laws in the country. That would be quite an enduring legacy.
More than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults support a constitutional amendment to limit campaign contributions and spending, new polling data released today reveals. The statewide poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center on behalf of People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Free Speech For People, and the New Hampshire Coalition for Open Democracy, found that 69% of the state feels that such an amendment should be in place – including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
The poll also found that 72% of respondents oppose (62% strongly oppose and 10% somewhat oppose) the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money to influence elections. The full results of the poll can be found here.
This new data comes on the heels of the recent bipartisan passage in the New Hampshire House of HCR2, a resolution calling on Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United by re-establishing the authority of the states and Congress to regulate corporate and special interest election spending. The resolution has moved to the Senate side of the General Court but is being stopped by a new Senate rule requiring a 2/3 supermajority vote to consider House resolutions. Release of the data also coincides with the Coalition for Open Democracy and Public Citizen’s Democracy In Motion Tour, a speaking tour through New Hampshire to get money out and voters in.
“These numbers make it clear that the political will exists to reclaim democracy from corporate and special interest spending – in New Hampshire and around the country,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Voters across the state are speaking out to insist that our democracy is truly of, by, and for the people.”
“This poll shows New Hampshire voters, like most Americans, are fed up with the Citizens United anything-goes approach to money in politics. Six in 10 New Hampshire Republicans, nearly three out of four independents, and nearly eight in ten Democrats support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. That's why 10 Republican Representatives joined Democrats in passing HCR 2 at the State House last month, and why the state Senate should now also heed the will of the voters,” said Peter Schurman, campaign director at Free Speech For People.
“Across party lines, people in New Hampshire and across America agree that corporations have too much political power, that Citizens United was wrongly decided, and that we need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore democracy,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, Senior Organizer of Democracy Is For People at Public Citizen. “The only question is: Are the politicians ready to follow the will of the people, rather than the giant campaign spenders?”
“New Hampshire Senators need to pass HCR 2 in the bipartisan way that the House did last month,” said Olivia Zink, Program Director at Coalition for Open Democracy. “This poll shows overwhelmingly that voters support an amendment that will stop the flood of special interest money pouring into New Hampshire.”
The West Virginia Legislature has approved a resolution calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases. This makes West Virginia the twelfth state to call for such an amendment.
People For the American Way has been working with activists in West Virginia to help rally support for the resolution. As PFAW Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan noted in a recent action alert, many West Virginians already understood the need to get big money out of politics:
“West Virginia has already seen the drastic need for a constitutional amendment to enact free and fair elections. In 2010, West Virginia’s congressional races attracted more than $15 million from outside groups such as American Crossroads and FreedomWorks, organizations that can, in the wake of Citizens United, raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections.”
As a West Virginian, I am especially proud to see this resolution pass in my home state. While the states that have called for an amendment are diverse – stretching from Hawaii to Rhode Island – protecting the integrity of our democratic process is a core American value. As one West Virginia delegate pointed out,
“One of government's roles within this great democracy is making sure everyone has a voice.”
West Virginians are now formally joining the proliferation of voices across the country calling for a democracy of, by, and for the people.
WASHINGTON – On Tuesday Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced an amendment to end corporate spending in our elections and permit Congress and the states to protect the political equality of all voters. The “Democracy Is For People” Amendment would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United V. FEC and related cases.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:
“The Citizens United v. FEC decision opened the floodgates to big money in our elections. This amendment would be a step toward reclaiming our democracy. Democracy is about the voices of everyday Americans, not about which corporations or special interests can spend the most to overpower those voices.
“As we saw in last year’s election – far and away the most expensive in history – corporate and special interest influence in our elections continues to grow. Americans are tired of watching their democracy be hijacked and are calling for change. This amendment is a serious, thoughtful effort that pushes the movement to restore our democracy forward.”
Members of the Task Force on Election Reform introduced three voter empowerment bills at the beginning of the 113th Congress in January. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi created The Task Force to develop electoral reform legislation under the D.A.R.E. initiative (Disclose, Amend, Reform, and Empower).
The objective of the Task Force on Election Reform is to combine the best parts of reform bills into one effective piece of legislation that will help strengthen the voices of average Americans and increase the participation of small-donor contributors in our elections.
The three bills that were introduced are:
The Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 269) was introduced by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) along with 52 co-sponsors. Among other provisions, the bill matches small-dollar donation 5-to-1 and requires participating candidates to limit contributions to $100. The bill was referred to the House Committee on House Administration on January 15, 2013.
The Grassroots Democracy Act (H.R. 268) was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) with 36 co-sponsors. The bill matches small contributions 10-1 for candidates who limit contributions to $100 and 5-1 for those that follow the normal contribution limit. The act also provides a $25 tax credit to help voters make small-dollar donations to the participating candidates. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Communication and Technology on January 18, 2013.
The Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 270) was introduced by Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 13 co-sponsors. The bill matches the first $250 of a contribution 5-to-1 and cuts the contribution limits in half to $1,250 for participating candidates. The legislation also aims to mitigate the effects of Citizens United, by providing a broader definition of coordination so that super PACs and political non-profits cannot function as arms of candidates’ campaigns. The bill was referred to the Committee on House Administration to the Committee on Ways and Means to decide which committee it belongs in on January, 15 2013.
The members of the Task Force on Election Reform are Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, Congressman Theodore E. Deutch, Congressman John Larson, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Congressman James P. McGovern, Congressman Rush D. Holt, Congressman Adam B. Schiff, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, Congressman John A. Yarmuth, Congressman Kurt Schrader, Congressman George Miller, Congressman David E. Price, Congressman Robert A. Brady, Congresswoman Susan A. Davis, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, Congressman Keith Ellison, Congressman John P. Sarbanes, and Congressman Rick Nolan.
All members of the Task Force on Election Reform support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
2,000 Public Officials Have Already Expressed Support for Constitutional Amendment
WASHINGTON – This week People For the American Way and ally organizations applauded the re-launch of the “Declaration For Democracy” campaign. Public officials signing the declaration are proclaiming their support for amending the constitution to limit the influence of money in our democracy and to restore the rights of the American people in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Keith Ellison (D-MN), James P. McGovern (D-MA), and John Yarmuth (D-KY) circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter today urging their colleagues to sign the declaration.
By the end of the 112th Congress, 2,000 public officials had expressed their support for a constitutional amendment, including President Obama, 102 Members of the House, and 29 Senators (list visible at http://united4thepeople.org).
The Declaration For Democracy reads: “I, ____________, declare my support for amending the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people, undermined by Citizens United and related cases, to protect the integrity of our elections and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.” The declaration can be found here: http://united4thepeople.org/index.html
“The Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related cases put our political system on the auction block to be sold to the highest bidder,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Americans don’t want an auction, they want a working democracy. We are thrilled that these Representatives are inviting their colleagues to join the growing chorus of voices calling for change. We look forward to getting even more public officials on board this year.”
“Companies ought to be competing in the marketplace with the best products and services, not in our elections for unfair influence of the decisions that will impact our economy by those with the deepest pockets,” said David Levine, CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council. “This money is better spent by investing in growing our businesses, creating jobs and building a stronger economy.”
“Voters across the country have demonstrated overwhelming support for a constitutional amendment that clarifies that unlimited campaign spending has never been free speech,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “Congress must respond to that.”
“Our electoral process should be about the rights of individuals to participate in our nation's politics,” said Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America. “That's what democracy looks like. The Communications Workers of America commends elected officials at every level of government who are fighting to restore fairness to our political process. The role of money in politics must be completely overhauled. Today it dwarfs everything else and is distorting our democracy. Working with other progressive organizations, CWA is committed to stopping the flow of secret cash to political campaigns and making it clear to all dollars are not speech. This effort will require constitutional changes and other measures to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for secret spending and today enables billionaires to buy our nation’s elections. We also will work for the public financing of elections, because without these very real changes, the one percent will continue to control our politics.”
“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new campaign finance system allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate at U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “There is, however, a silver lining: unprecedented public support for real reforms to ensure that in our democracy every citizen is a political equal, regardless of the size of her wallet. We applaud members of Congress who commit to achieving this end.”
“We can’t both maintain Citizens United as the law of the land and maintain a functioning democracy,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “A mounting public movement is demanding a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy. The legislators leading the way to winning a constitutional amendment are carrying out the grandest American traditions to defend and expand our democracy.”
“Americans who are wondering why it's tougher to get ahead in today's economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, Democracy Counsel for Demos. “When just a few billionaires and special interests can counter the voices of millions of ordinary citizens in the public square, these big donors get to set the agenda in Washington and across the country. Now is the time to build a democracy in which the strength of a citizen's voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet—and amending the constitution is a critical step.”
“Our nation today faces the central question of whether We the People or We the Corporations shall govern in America,” said John Bonifaz, the co-founder and executive director of Free Speech For People, a national campaign launched on the day of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling to press for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy. “To defend the promise of American self-government, we must enact a constitutional amendment that overturns our system of unlimited campaign spending and the fiction of corporate constitutional rights and that restores republican democracy to the people.”
“Now is not the time to be timid; rather, we need to seize this moment and overturn Citizens United with a Constitutional amendment that also overturns all Constitutional rights granted to corporations by court-created doctrines. The Constitution is for ‘we, the people,’” said David e. Delk, Co-chair of the Alliance for Democracy.
“After the most expensive election in U.S. history and the history of the world and with more money secretly funneled through tax exempt groups to try to influence who wins office, more and more Americans are demanding that the Constitution be amended to restore the rightful role of ordinary people in our democracy,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy and the publisher of PRWatch and ALECexposed, adding, “we applaud these Representatives and urge others to publicly declare whose side they are on: the side of voters or big money.”
“The greatest political reform of our time will be to abolish the legal concept of ‘corporate personhood’ and the inherently anti-democratic equation of money with political speech,” said Bill Moyer, Executive Director of the Backbone Campaign.