Table of Contents
- Communicating with Members of Congress
On September 11, 2014, the Senate voted on the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposal that would overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and reclaim our political system for “We, the People.” The idea behind the amendment was simple: Congress and the states should once again be able to set reasonable limits on money in elections so that all people can meaningfully participate in our democracy.
Unfortunately, because of a series of damaging Supreme Court decisions, today our elected representatives do not have that ability. The Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010 opened the door to unlimited corporate political spending and struck down the laws that prohibited such spending. The 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision said that the wealthiest individuals in our country can contribute even more money to political candidates and party committees – striking down the aggregate limits that had capped individuals’ campaign contributions during a single election cycle.
The effects of these and other decisions have not been hard to see. The 2014 "Money Midterms," as some commentators dubbed them, were the most expensive in history. Local news stations struggled to keep up as they were flooded with ads from super PACs and other outside groups. A tiny fraction of the electorate drove this deluge. As of October 15, just 140 donors had provided more than 60 percent of this cycle’s super PAC contributions. As money pours into our political system, the voices of everyday Americans – who don’t have a corporate treasury to spend from or millions in their bank accounts – are becoming increasingly hard to hear.
While a majority of Senators voted in favor of the Democracy for All Amendment, it did not receive the votes necessary to pass. But we came closer than ever before, and we're not giving up. It has been reintroduced in both the House (H.J.Res. 22) and the Senate (S.J.Res. 5). We have a chance to take our democracy back from corporations and billionaires. There is tremendous grassroots momentum backing this effort. Sixteen states, more than 600 cities and towns, and millions of Americans have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.
Political ads paid for by corporate bank accounts and wealthy billionaires should not be allowed to drown out the voices and opinions of ordinary Americans. Americans deserve a real democracy, where meaningful participation in our political system isn’t only for the rich and powerful. We have to work together to put our elections back into the hands of the people.
And we can’t do it without you. In this toolkit, you will find many ways you can get involved in the movement to amend our Constitution to get big money out of politics. From writing letters to the editor to calling your representative to hosting an event, we need your voice in the fight to reclaim our democracy.
The Democracy for All constitutional amendment (H.J.Res. 22 and S.J.Res. 5) restores the ability of Congress and state legislatures to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections. It overturns misguided Supreme Court decisions, including Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC that threaten the integrity of our democracy. These Supreme Court decisions together have created a system in which outside interests can spend unlimited amounts of money on political elections with little to no transparency or accountability. This has allowed wealthy and powerful corporations and individuals to purchase outsized influence in our political process.
Section 1 –
“To advance democratic self-government and political equality, and to protect the integrity of government and the electoral process, Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.”
Section 2 –
“Congress and the States shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”
Section 3 –
“Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.”
In order for a constitutional amendment to be signed into law, it needs to pass with a two-thirds majority in Congress, and then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. This is a big lift, but a growing movement around the issue of money in politics has formed and will continue pushing for reform for the years to come.
As of February 3, 2015, H.J.Res. 22 had 91 supporters, and S.J.Res. 5 had 38. While there are currently no hearings or votes scheduled, People For the American Way will work with allies to reach out and encourage as many members as possible to show their support by cosponsoring the amendment.
- Americans of all political and ideological stripes agree: moneyed interests have overwhelmed the political process. This trend has been decades in the making, but the Supreme Court has made the problem exponentially worse through its decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which further dismantled what’s left of our country’s campaign finance laws. These and other damaging Supreme Court decisions have left Congress and the states constitutionally prohibited from putting commonsense limits on the raising and spending of money on elections.
- Providing legislators the ability to set reasonable limits on campaign spending is a commonsense measure that most Americans believe in, but a narrow majority of the Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step of stripping away that authority. The Democracy for All constitutional amendment simply restores this ability back to Congress and the States.
- In today’s elections, the voices of wealthy special interests are able to overpower the voices of everyday Americans. Corporations and the super-rich can now spend a limitless amount of money to influence our elections and set the political agenda. Outside spending increased more than 300 percent between the 2008 and 2012 presidential election years, and nearly 200 percent between the 2010 and 2014 midterm election years. And with a total of nearly $4 billion spent in 2014 alone, the overwhelming political power of wealthy special interests is once again clear. There's even an academic study that calls the United States more of an oligarchy than a democracy, with corporations and the wealthy influencing critical policy decisions, not every day Americans.
- The American people are losing faith in our political system. More than seven in ten voters believe our country’s election system is “biased in favor of the candidate with the most money.” They also want to see real change. More than nine in ten believe it is mportant for “our elected leaders [to] reduce the influence of money in political elections.”
- While there are a range of solutions that would help fix this problem, there are only two ways to sustainably address the root problem created by the Supreme Court’s harmful decisions. We must either change who sits on the Supreme Court, or we must amend the Constitution to overturn these decisions. We need a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment’s contribution to a government whose laws, as Justice Breyer said in his McCutcheon dissent, reflect the people’s “thoughts, views, ideas, and sentiments.”
- Constitutional amendments are warranted in only the rarest of circumstances, but this is one of those moments in our country’s history. The very foundation of our democracy is at risk.
- There is broad, cross-partisan support for a constitutional amendment. A July 2014 poll found that nearly three in four voters (73 percent) support an amendment to overturn Citizens United. In addition, 129 current members of Congress (and counting), sixteen states, more than 600 cities and towns, and even our nation’s president are already on record in support of an amendment.
- Supporting a constitutional amendment to get big money out of elections is not only good for our democracy, it’s good politics. Recent polling found that political candidates’ support of an amendment can help win favor among voters. The reverse is also true: voters report having serious concerns when they learn of a candidate’s support for the Citizens United decision.
Representatives and senators rely on their constituents’ opinions and concerns when formulating positions and voting on legislation. Responding is an integral part of being a member of Congress, and whether they are seen as being responsive can affect how they are viewed by their constituents come Election Day.
Your communication with members of Congress should be concise, informed, and polite. Review information about them before you write or call and familiarize yourself with their committee assignments and staff. It is important to know something about them before you begin the exchange. A common interest or background should help you stand out.
Six different ways to communicate with members of Congress are listed below.
One of the most effective ways of making your voice heard in Congress is by setting up an in-person meeting with your representative. As a constituent of a state or congressional district, you are entitled to a meeting with the office of your representative or senator. Given that Congressional offices are busy places, addressing many matters and serving many interests, it can be helpful to organize with other constituents or coordinate with an organization and set up a meeting together. Ideally if you can coordinate with an organization that has members in the district of the representative you are meeting with, your group will have more sway. More often than not, you will be meeting with staff members who handle legislative affairs instead of the representative or senator themselves. Meeting with staff members is a valuable opportunity to share your concerns and get a first-hand account of where your elected representative stands on the Democracy for All Amendment and the issue of money in politics generally.
Setting up a meeting with your elected representative’s office can be as simple as making a phone call and requesting a meeting. Try to schedule your meeting as far in advance as possible. Prior to the meeting, you may want to come up with a plan and assign certain speaking roles in the meeting.
A successful lobby meeting can include most or all of the following:
- Facts, figures and statistics
- Personal story
- Specific ask
- Plan to follow-up
Remember that a personal visit with a member of Congress can be a powerful way to demonstrate your interest in an issue or bill. Review the area of discussion before the meeting so you have a thorough knowledge of the subject. During the meeting, speak clearly and be concise. Present the pros and cons of the issue, as well as detailed explanations as to why you support your view. Encourage questions from the member and be ready to answer them, but if you don't have an answer don't be afraid to say that you'll get back to them with more information. At the end of the meeting, ask for favorable consideration of your issue and thank him or her for their time.
To address an issue with a member of Congress by telephone, call the US Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or use the main number listed for their House or Senate office. Speak to a staff member about your issue or concern; be sure to ask them to pass along your opinion. With patience, you might also be able to speak to the member directly.
Sample phone script, if your representative or senator has not signed on as an amendment co-sponsor:
Hi, my name is ___________ and I am a resident of ______________.
I am calling today because I would like to voice my concern about the influence of big money in politics, and to encourage Senator/Representative ______________ to cosponsor the Democracy for All Amendment.
Has Rep/Sen ____________ made a decision as to whether they will cosponsor?
(Wait for response)
Please add my name as a constituent and voter who wants to see Rep/Sen____________ sign on in support of the Democracy for All Amendment.
(Give name and contact information)
Thank you for your time.
If your senator or representative is already a cosponsor, you should thank them for their support.
USPS mail was for a long time the most common means of communicating with members of Congress. Letters to them should be legible and concise. State the purpose of the letter in the first paragraph, support your positions in the rest of the letter, and conclude with a strong reiteration of your position. Stick to the facts, and if you are citing the Democracy for All Amendment make sure to include the bill numbers as follows:
House version –“H.J Res. 22”
Senate version – “S.J.Res. 5”
Remember to address how the issue of money in politics affects you and other constituents, using the talking points in this toolkit or from your own personal experience and insight.
The Honorable ______
<Office Number> <Office Building>
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative ______:
The Honorable ______
<Office Number> <Office Building>
Washington, DC 20510
For a sample lobbying letter, please contact Rio Tazewell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 467-2371.
Faxing information is another common method of communicating with members of Congress. A fax receives the same attention as a letter sent by mail. Include your name and return address and ensure that both are legible. You should receive a written response from the member in the mail.
Today, many members of Congress encourage their constituents to correspond by email. Although a member occasionally responds via email, more often you will receive an automatic acknowledgement that your message has been received, and then a written response in the mail that addresses the substance of your issue. Email correspondence should address the member as Representative or Senator, and should include your name and address; be sure to type them accurately.
Many members use an online form for email instead of an actual email address. The form is a page on the member’s website that can be filled out and submitted electronically. The form enables the member to capture your name, address, and the subject of your message in a database for future correspondence. Often these forms rely on your zip code, and if you don’t reside in a member’s district or state, you may not be able to submit a message to that member – limiting email to constituents only.
Many members of Congress have social media accounts, and tweeting at them or posting on their Facebook walls has the added benefit of being visible to other people. Go to your members' websites or search Twitter or Facebook for their names, and tweet at them by using their handles – for example, @SenatorJohnSmith – in your tweets. It’s also helpful to search Twitter for your issue or concern to find relevant hashtags or other Twitter accounts – like activists and organizations – that could be included in your tweets. Using hashtags and additional Twitter handles helps raise the visibility of your tweets.
Here is a quick video tutorial on how to make the most of your social media, produced by Free Speech For People.
As the world’s largest and most robust social network, any social media advocacy strategy must utilize Facebook. A great way to find and share relevant content from your personal account on Facebook is to “Like” organizations that are working on this issue. For a list of groups that are tackling the issue of money in politics, please see: http://www.united4thepeople.org/orgs.html
Sample Facebook Posts
Click on the images below to share them on Facebook, or simply right-click and save them to your computer.
If you are looking for an even quicker way to lend your support to an issue, you can tweet about it! Twitter is a powerful way to participate in conversations with people, organizations and businesses of all kinds around the world. By following individuals and groups that you find interesting, you can stay up to date and on the front lines of breaking news and other information. Also, using Twitter allows you to be part of large-scale trends in information sharing. This is largely as a result of the #hashtag feature, which groups Twitter posts (tweets) together based on the hashtags they use. In your tweets about the constitutional amendment, you can use #Democracy4All, #GetMoneyOut, and #CitizensUnited. There's also #DemandDemocracy.
Click the Twitter icon to tweet now.
A picture can be worth a thousand words, particularly when shared over social media. Photo petitions can be as simple as having a sign that makes a personal statement and taking a picture with it (i.e. “Amend the Constitution to #GetMoneyOut” or “I want a democracy of, by, and for real people!”). Photo petitions can be taken either with a group or on your own. As part of our Government By the People campaign, we will be collecting pictures and photo petitions in an album that can be shared over social media. If you take any pictures, whether they are a photo petition or of an event, please send them to Rio Tazewell at email@example.com.
For sample photo petitions about money in politics check out: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pfaw/sets/72157645966625303/
A video petition can be one of the most powerful ways to share your message and to make the issue of money in politics personal. Write down what you want to say and practice before you record, and try to avoid using filler words like “um.” With video, it’s good to be as concise as possible, so try to keep your message around 30 seconds long.
Example video petition script:
“Hi, my name is __________ and I care about getting money out of politics because I don’t want politicians who are beholden to wealthy special interests making decisions that will harm my children’s future. The fossil fuels industry spends millions of dollars in political elections making sure we don’t do anything about climate change, and because of this we are putting our very way of life at risk. I want my kids to live in a world where their voices are heard.”
Instructions for recording a video using an iPhone/Android:
Hold phone horizontally, not vertically.
Click “camera” and then switch to the video option. Press the red record button.
Record a short video and finish by clicking the red button again.
It will be stored with your photos/videos. Click on it and click the share button (it has a box and an arrow) and then email it to Rio Tazewell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More info on this can be found here: http://www.wikihow.com/Take-Photos-and-Video-With-the-iPhone-4
Instructions for taking a video from a Mac webcam:
Open the “photobooth” program.
Click the video option on the lower left hand corner (it looks like a film strip).
Click the record button, and record your video. Then click the stop button.
Once finished, it will be in the list of other photos/videos below the main screen.
Right click and export the file to your desktop.
Send this video file by attaching it to an email to Rio Tazewell at email@example.com.
If the file is too large to send, contact us and we will send a shared folder you can use to upload your video.
Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) in response to a story or op-ed that has recently run in a newspaper you read is an effective way of raising awareness on an issue. Here’s how you do it:
- Be brief. As a general rule, you will want to keep your LTE under 200 words. However, be sure to review in advance the LTE guidelines of your newspaper of choice to double-check that 200 words is an acceptable length. Generally guidelines are posted online; however you can also find out by calling the newspaper’s office.
- Be surprising. The best letters to the editor make readers look at an issue in a new way — introduce interesting facts that weren’t in the paper’s coverage of the issue, or look at the same facts from a different angle.
- Make it local. If you can tie your letter to the editor in to local events or connect it to local personalities, do that. The more you can include local examples in your letter, the more compelling it will be.
- Be polite. No matter how much you might disagree with the article or point of view to which you’re responding, be respectful — newspapers won’t publish letters they consider rude or insulting.
- Do not feel obligated to only submit LTEs to large newspapers. Your local paper is a great place to start the discussion. At the same time, do not hesitate to submit to bigger papers even if the chances of acceptance are slimmer.
- Be sure to include your contact information in your submission. Many newspapers will require their employees to contact LTE authors prior to publication. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your information publicly, be sure to make that stipulation at the bottom of your letter.
What to Write About
- Provide background information on the growing grassroots movement to get big money out of politics. Keep in mind that your audience will most likely have not heard of the Democracy for All Amendment, so be sure to include a quick explanation (such as “a proposed amendment to get big money out of politics moving its way through Congress.”)
- Write about, or to, your elected official in your LTE. If your senators and representative haven’t signed on as cosponsors, write that they should. If they have signed on, thank them and say that you are proud to have a representative that stands up for the voices of everyday Americans in a political system often dominated by corporations and billionaires.
- Provide background information on the issue of money in politics, using information provided in this toolkit or from your own independent research. You may consider discussing how the influence of big money in political elections impacts other issues that you are concerned about.
- Identify timely information in your LTE, such as
Conclude with an opinion and/or call to action, possibly something along the lines of:
- Asking elected officials to support and cosponsor the Democracy for All Amendment.
- Encouraging citizens to contact their elected members of Congress by calling, writing or using social media.
- Calling on people to speak up about the issue of money in politics and talk about how it impacts other issues.
- Saying we need a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and make sure that the voices of everyday Americans can be heard.
- Pointing out that in our democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the strength of your voice. We have to pass a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests.
After Submitting Your LTE
- Please let us know if your LTE has been printed. We’ll work to amplify your message and will make sure your public officials see it.
- If your LTE is not accepted, do not be deterred. There are many way you can contribute to the movement. A quick way you can make sure your hard work does not go to waste is by repurposing what you wrote and mailing it in to your representative and senators.
Amendment levels playing field
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 25, 2014
In his July 12 column ( “Dems flawed ‘amendment'” ), Byron York claimed the proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics currently advancing in the Senate would “vastly increase the power of Congress to control elections and political speech.” He called it “deeply troubling.”
But the amendment is not about Congress controlling speech; it's about restoring everyday Americans' ability to have a meaningful say in who is elected to represent them by undoing the damage of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. It's about getting a handle on the money flooding our elections so that political speech is for all of us, not just those who can give thousands to super PACs.
What Americans actually find “deeply troubling,” to borrow York's words, is not the amendment but the enormous influence of corporations and billionaires. Today, wealthy interests can spend limitless sums of money to influence our elections. It's not surprising that more than 7 in 10 voters believe our elections are “biased in favor of the candidate with the most money,” and a whopping 9 in 10 want our elected leaders to help lessen money's influence on elections.
Through the proposed amendment, that's just what our elected leaders are doing.
Writing an op-ed is similar to writing a letter to the editor, but it can be a slightly longer and more in-depth look at the issue. Here’s how you do it:
- Find a news hook. Like with LTEs, your op-ed must be timely. You can have a great topic for your op-ed, but if it doesn’t relate to current news, an editor might not pick it for publication. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to make your topic relevant and newsworthy. You can include surprising new research or statistics that illuminate your topic; link your topic to a holiday or an anniversary of a historic event; connect your topic to popular culture; tie your topic in with a debate or trend that’s big in the news; show how the conventional wisdom about a topic is wrong; or any combination of the above.
- Make it compelling. Be sure to include a call to action clearly and early, and support it with compelling facts. Then carefully proofread it and make sure it fits in the word limit.
- Pitch it. Look for your target paper’s op-ed submission instructions on its website. If there is no submission form, you should send your op-ed in the body of an email, and include a brief note at the top introducing yourself, explaining the context for your op-ed and providing your contact information. If you don’t hear back from the editor in a couple of days, send another note or call the editorial department to follow up. If your first choice paper doesn’t accept it, don’t give up! Pick your second choice paper, and try again.
- Please let us know if your op-ed has been printed.
Amend the Constitution to reclaim democracy from big-money politics
By Rick Claypool
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 4, 2014
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that some corporations have a “religious” right to deny female employees access to contraception, it was hard to imagine anyone credibly complaining that corporations don’t have enough power over Washington, D.C., and the lives of ordinary Americans.
Whether it’s bailouts for the Wall Street firms that crashed our economy, taxpayer handouts for the polluting industries that fuel catastrophic climate change or a “health care” system that protects insurance company profits more than our poorest citizens’ access to care, the tremendous extent which corporate money distorts our political process and damages the public interest is clear.
When will the tide at least begin to turn?
The surprising answer to that question: maybe in a few weeks.
In a few weeks, the U.S. Senate is likely to vote on an amendment to the Constitution that would restore the First Amendment to the American people.
The proposed 28th amendment would be the first step toward undoing the damage of the Supreme Court’s disastrous rulings in Citizens United — which allows corporations, organizations or individuals to spend unlimited sums to influence elections — and McCutcheon — which eliminated aggregate contribution limits to candidates and parties for individuals.
In these and other recent campaign finance rulings, the Supreme Court has weakened the First Amendment rights of the 99 percent of Americans who are not executives of multinational corporations or billionaire oligarchs. In part due to these sorts of decisions, confidence in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government is at a near-record low.
Voters in Pennsylvania are acutely aware of the increasing sums flooding our elections. In the hard-fought 2012 election for U.S. Senate, Pennsylvania voters endured a bevy of negative ads funded by big money super PACs and shadowy nonprofit political groups. All told, these groups spent $5.5 million to influence the outcome. 2010 was even worse. That year outside groups spent more than $30 million in the Senate race.
On the left and the right, those who fund the loudest, meanest campaign ads and those who dole out the biggest political contributions set the terms of the debate. By the time the public gets to vote, the ballot has already been whittled down to those who are coziest with the special interests. And whoever is elected must tread lightly lest they find themselves in the crosshairs of a super PAC-funded attack campaign next election. The result is absolutely devastating to our republic.
As both targets and recipients of the onslaught of special interest money overwhelming elections post-Citizens United, Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican, should understand this dynamic better than most. And they have a golden opportunity to change it and leave the legislative branch better than they found it.
This Independence Day, let’s urge our senators to declare independence from special-interest campaign cash.
Both should sponsor and vote yes on Senate Joint Resolution 19 to affirm that they stand with the vast majority of Americans who want the real voices of real people to matter more than the money that corporations and the super-rich funnel into our political system.
The tide can turn. We can restore our democracy. Our senators can take bold, patriotic stances and start the essential work of weeding out corruption in our political system.
I can think of no better way for our senators to start than by declaring their support for a 28th Amendment, and, thereby, giving the voters in Pennsylvania and across the country that much more reason to celebrate this Fourth of July.
Canvass Your Neighborhood, Building or College Campus
Since collecting petitions is one of the most important things that can be done in any campaign, getting your neighbors, friends and peers on board and talking to them about the corrupting influence of money in politics is an excellent way of having an impact on this issue.
Canvassing can be as simple as knocking on your neighbors’ doors, sharing some talking points and/or other information with them, and asking whether they would be willing to sign a petition that supports the Democracy for All Amendment.
Want more information and materials to use for canvassing? Contact Rio Tazewell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 467-2371.
Democracy for All petition: www.pfaw.org/Amend
Make a Public Service Announcement
There are many forums in our daily life that can provide an opportunity to educate our friends, family, coworkers and community members about the issue of money in politics and the need for a constitutional amendment to solve it. Preparing a pitch or “elevator speech” can equip you to be an on-the-spot advocate for campaign finance reform. Using the talking points presented in the toolkit, you can craft a short speech that you can memorize and use when informing someone about the issue of money in politics and the need for a constitutional amendment.
Places that you can potentially deliver a Public Service Announcement include:
- On a local radio station
- On a local news channel
- To your place of worship
- To your club/team/sorority/fraternity
- As a toast, to your friends/family, etc.
For a list of common arguments against the amendment, as well as responses to debunk those arguments, please see The 10 Most Absurd Arguments Against The Udall Citizens United Amendment from PFAW's Right Wing Watch.
To read People For the American Way’s edit memo on how the proposed amendment would restore the First Amendment and strengthen our democracy, click here.
To see People For the American Way’s statement on the Senate's 2014 vote on the Democracy for All Amendment, click here.
To view a list of states and municipalities that have called for a constitutional amendment, click here.
To read more about “Money Out, Voters In” reforms, check out People For the American Way’s in-depth Money Out, Voters In: A Guide To Democratic Reform toolkit.
For organizing or policy-related questions about the Democracy for All Amendment, please contact Rio Tazewell at email@example.com or (202) 467-2371.
For communications/media-related questions about the Democracy for All Amendment, please contact Layne Amerikaner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 467-2305.