Maryland Campaign for the Free and Fair Elections Amendment
Coordinated by Get Money Out - Maryland (GMOM) Charlie Cooper President, 410-624-6095
(Download this page as a Word document. See campaign supporters and allies.)
Co-sponsor the GMOM Rally Jan. 21, 2014, 11 A.M. Lawyers Mall, Annapolis to oppose “corporate personhood and “overturn Citizens United on the 4th anniversary of that tragic Supreme Court ruling. Following the rally, participants will make lobby visits with senators and delegates.
Sponsors of last year’s rally expected to sponsor this year’s, with more to be added, include:
Get Money Out - Maryland, Progressive Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, Maryland Public Interest Research Group, Maryland United for Peace and Justice, MoveOn.Org Baltimore Council, Progressive Democrats of America – Maryland, Maryland Nonprofits, Fund Our Communities, Prince George's Peace & Justice Coalition, Peace Action Montgomery, Generations for Peace and Democracy, Progressive Cheverly, Howard County Peace Action, Pax Christi, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, United Workers, Pledge of Resistance.
Endorse the binding resolution bill [See CONFIDENTIAL drafts of full bill and letter attached]
to be introduced by Sen. Jamie Raskin (and championed by Del. Sheila Hixson in the House, with co-sponsors Dels. Mizeur, Hucker et al.). It calls for an Article V convention of the states to draft an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to do 3 things:
- Overturn Citizens United and regulate money in politics
- Reserve constitutional rights exclusively to natural persons (not corporations)
- Guarantee that every individual citizen has the constitutional right to vote (for the first time) in order to roll back growing efforts to suppress the freedom to vote.
Why endorse this bill
When policy outcomes are controlled by who invests most in Congressional campaigns, large corporations and the wealthiest use their influence to dominate our politics. They enact policies that further increase their wealth and power in opposition to the public interest. Revenue, effort and resources are redirected away from jobs, education, housing, health care, infrastructure, environmental protection, renewable energy and the needs of workers, seniors, children and families.
Background: Supreme Court Decisions Undermining Democracy
“Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United.” - President Barack Obama
“Money does not equal free speech. We’re going to work as best we can to try to rectify that.
It may take a constitutional amendment. Because this Supreme Court as currently constituted equates money with free speech and that fundamental difference prevents virtually any kind of meaningful legislation from happening. That means we’ll continue to have a system that is polluted with money…” - Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President at its 2013 Convention, September 9th
“No sensible reform is possible until we end this corruption… We will never get your issue solved until we fix this issue first… Yours is the most important issue, but mine is the first [that] we have to solve before we get to fix the issues you care about.” - Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig
The Citizens United v FEC decision by the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign expenditures in elections, which corporations and the extremely wealthy have used with devastating impact in the last few elections. This misguided decision reversed decades of campaign finance regulation at the state and federal level, turning our public elections into private auctions. With regard to voting rights, Supreme Court justices in the Bush v Gore decision declared that there is no individual right to vote in the Constitution and in its aftermath, there has been a concerted attack upon the right to vote across the country. These legal travesties require remedy if we are going to preserve representative democracy and create a more perfect union.
Why We Must Amend: To Preserve and Defend Democracy in America
American democracy is under assault by the most powerful economic forces and the wealthiest individuals the world has ever known. Our country is being called a “flawed democracy” by some, and even a former Democratic President said outright, “America does not at the moment have a functioning democracy.” This is America in 2013, and we must take action to reverse course before our country falls into even darker days.
The right to vote is being gutted in states around the country. The rising tide of campaign cash places free and fair elections in jeopardy. The wounds initially opened in our democracy by Bush v Gore have only been further expanded by a Supreme Court recklessly demolishing the walls of separation between wealth and state. They have arrogantly handed down decision after decision that defends the right of corporations to influence our elections but derides the right of everyday Americans to participate in them, and now they are considering going even further with McCutcheon v. FEC.
If it is not the fate of representative democracy to die face down in a pile of campaign cash, suffocated under the boot of a lobbyist-driven dictatorship of outside interests, then we must discover a way to revive our democracy. Ever since the founding of our country, Americans in every generation have overcome overwhelming odds to create a more perfect union, including the Abolitionists, the Suffragists, and the Civil Rights Movement which came before us. Now it is our turn.
As was the case with those Progressive movements, our goal is to amend the U.S. Constitution to make America more democratic, more inclusive, and more accountable to the people. We must amend, because the Supreme Court overturned federal campaign finance law with Citizens United v FEC and rejected state level attempts to preserve anti-corruption laws with American Tradition Partnership v Bullock. That means no law passed, at either the state or federal level, can be protected without an amendment, and the only authority superior to the Supreme Court is the U.S. Constitution, so we must amend.
Every generation of Americans has amended the Constitution (with the exception of the current one), which has been amended 27 times in our nation’s history. While Congress has ultimately proposed all previous amendments, 4 out of the last 10 Amendments as well as the Bill of Rights used state level campaigns calling for a convention to force Congress to act. Therefore, most amendments to the Constitution come from states issuing a call for an amendment and pushing for a convention of the states to do so, if Congress will not act. Historically, if you want an amendment, this is how to do it.
Congress is broken. We have been told by Democratic members in leadership that there’s no way 2/3rds of Congress will vote to propose an amendment to fix our elections. Congress could not even pass something as decent and simple as the DISCLOSE Act when they had Democratic majorities in both houses with a Democratic President. Yet, when asking what we could do for them, multiple members of Congress said, “Free us from fundraising.” It appears that they see the problem, but they cannot find their way to the solution.
The good news is that democracy is still alive at the state level, where state legislators are responsive to their constituents and similarly concerned about the threats to our democracy. Nearly 90% of Americans are deeply concerned about the corruption of our federal government, and the dysfunction in government just surpassed the economy as the number one issue to most Americans. While Congress is broken, state legislators in Maryland can take action with other states to drive toward a solution.
As was the case with the 17th Amendment (direct election of U.S. Senators), there were powerful institutional forces that would prevent the Congress from ever taking action – it’s difficult to get 2/3rds of Senators to throw away their own method of selection. But with pressure from state legislatures across the country and a populist movement forcing their hand, the people were able to wrench the 17th Amendment out of Congress and then ratify it into the Constitution. It will likely take a similar strategy for us to win.
Whether proposed by Congress or proposed via a convention of the states, any amendment would need to be approved by 75% of the states prior to being added into the Constitution.
With 20 state legislatures controlled entirely by Democrats and 27 controlled entirely by Republicans (3 are split), only the most popular proposals supported by a vast majority of the population across lines of partisanship will make it through this political gauntlet.
Of course it is hard to amend the Constitution, as it should be, but guaranteeing the right to vote and getting money out of politics are fundamental reforms the vast majority of Americans support. The majority of Americans agree elections should be free of the corrupting influence of excessive spending by outside interests, fair enough that any citizen can run for public office, and that every American should have the right to vote. It is just this kind of issue that can unite Americans across political divides and create a movement to amend that will ultimately prevail.
The right of the people to choose our own elected officials, write our own laws, and determine the fate of our country together should be enshrined into the U.S. Constitution.The perverse doctrine that artificial entities have inalienable rights and that systemic bribery is a form of protected speech must be explicitly rejected. We must reclaim representative democracy in this country, for ourselves and for all future generations of Americans.
Our generation’s greatest responsibility is to get private money out of public elections and enshrine the right to vote in our nation’s most sacred document. It’s time to use the tools of democracy – all of them – while we still have the ability to do so in order to fix the problems we face. Only once we have freed our elections and government from the corruption currently plaguing them, and have restored the right of the people to choose the course of our country, can we begin effectively fixing the myriad of other fundamental problems we face.
Many people joining our efforts around the country, as well as those working with the Maryland Campaign for the Free and Fair Elections Amendment, cite climate change as their driving motivation, recognizing that environmental problems cannot be solved without removing the corrupting influence of fossil-fuel companies on our government. But whether it’s economic justice, workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, social justice, or any of the many other Progressive campaigns and causes, we must stand united against the privilege of the world’s wealthiest individuals who dominate our political discourse and drown out the voices of everyday Americans.
To win on these issues in the long term, we must reset the rules of the political game. Powerful economic forces and corporations have used their economic clout to rig our laws to benefit only the 1% to the detriment of the rest of us and the future of our country. Amending the Constitution to restore free and fair elections and guarantee the individual’s right to vote will give us a fighting chance.
The one unifying demand of reformers nationwide should be to end the corruption in D.C. and to save our democracy. When we achieve the historic feat of amending the Constitution, we will know that we all participated in creating a more perfect union. We can do this, and the tools of the internet provide us with a powerful arsenal, but ultimately, we as Americans must take action before it is too late.
Process and Strategy: The Two Ways to Amend the Constitution
As public concern and anger build about the destruction of our democracy, so does agreement that the only effective means to reverse Citizen’s United and the perversion of “corporate personhood” is by amending the U.S. Constitution, which can be done in two ways:
a) REQUEST that Congress pass such an amendment, which this Congress is free to ignore, so far has, and always will according to nearly all progressive observers, in and out of Congress. Thus far, on record as supporting an amendment to overturn ‘Citizens United’ are 108 members of the Maryland General Assembly, 15 other states, 350 U.S. cities and towns, 125 members of Congress and a clear majority of the American public. However, Congress is the source of the dysfunction, so this is like asking cancer to cure cancer. Congress could not even pass something as simple and decent as the DISCLOSE Act, so cannot and will not fix it according to most informed observers. Even members of Congress themselves who ask that we “free them from fundraising,” state plainly that “the current Congress [or leadership] is incapable of proposing an amendment.”
b) REQUIRE: When 2/3rds of the states (currently 34) demand a ‘convention of the states’ for the purpose of proposing such an amendment, Congress is forced to assemble the convention (also known as an Article 5 Convention.) Already over 30 states – representing the entire political spectrum - have active campaigns underway to pass a state resolution calling for a convention to propose anamendment for Free and Fair Elections, overturning the ‘Citizens United’ decision, and eliminating ‘corporate personhood.’ Maryland could lead the way, as it did on the Living Wage, along with Vermont and Iowa as most likely to pass the “binding resolution” among at least 10 states introducing one in 2014.
c) RATIFICATION: Once an amendment is proposed, whether by a 2/3rds vote of both houses of Congress or by 2/3rds of the states (currently 34) calling for a convention, it must then be ratified by 3/4ths of the states (38).
For reference, here is the text of Article V in the United States Constitution:
Article V: The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress....
While use of a convention of the states to propose an amendment is unprecedented, state-level campaigns to call a convention helped add 4 out of the last 10 Amendments and the Bill of Rights.
So historically, most amendments to the Constitution have been added by utilizing this strategy.
Historical Perspective: Previous Amendments, Movements and Conventions
Our Constitution has been amended 27 other times, and at least once by every generation of Americans. In the past 100 years, America has amended the Constitution 9 times, once in as little as 100 days. The Founders explicitly gave citizens the ability to amend the Constitution and used it themselves to establish the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.
Three amendments passed as recently as in the 1960’s. In 1971, just four months after Congress submitted it to the states, the 26th Amendment (allowing 18-year-olds to vote) was ratified in just four months. The most recent amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1992, more than 200 years after it was first presented in the US House of Representatives by Representative James Madison of Virginia.
The 17th Amendment (for direct election of Senators) was proposed by Congress in 1913 only after the states were within one state of the 2/3rds needed to call for a convention of the states. Also, Congress proposed the 21st amendment (repeal of prohibition), 22nd amendment (term limits for the President), and 25th amendment (clarifies Presidential succession), only after many state legislatures had called for a convention of the states for each of these issues.
The amendment power of the states included in Article 5 is a core component of the Constitution, meant to be used when our federal legislators no longer represent the nation’s citizens. In the
“final argument” of the Federalist Papers (no. 85), Alexander Hamilton said the Article V amend-ment process was the means by which the states would rein in an out-of-control or corrupt federal government.
Even though a convention of the states has not yet occurred, there is a strong precedent for a single issue convention to propose amendments, as there have been over 700 state applications, but never 2/3 on a single subject, which would have compelled Congress to call a convention on that subject.
There have been over 233 state level conventions to amend state constitutions and none has ever exceeded the scope of their mandate (although the ultra right-wing John Birch Society likes to promote the conspiracy theory of a “runaway convention”).
Furthermore, a convention would only propose an amendment that would then need to be ratified by 75% of the states, 20 of which are controlled by Democrats and 27 of which are controlled by Republicans (3 are split). Only proposals that enjoy widespread cross-partisan support, such as voting rights and getting money out of politics, will make it through that incredibly narrow political gauntlet, and anything 75% of the states want in the US Constitution probably belongs in there anyhow.
Whether it’s through Congress or a convention of the states, it is clear that we must amend the U.S. Constitution if we are to preserve representative democracy for future generations of Americans.