Can citizen action make a difference? It’s easy to be discouraged by our national politics in this partisan atmosphere. But there is one area of consensus.
In a recent poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland, 96 percent of citizens identified big money in campaigns as the most important source of dysfunction in our political system. In 2018, citizens advocated for election reform and their delegates in Annapolis responded.
The U.S. Supreme Court via a string of decisions including Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, ruled that artificial entities — corporations, unions — could spend unlimited money on elections as they have the same rights as natural persons including free speech. Last July the Treasury Department made it even easier for almost any organization or individual to anonymously spend any amount on any federal campaign.
Big money is a grave threat to democracy because special interests control policy in Washington and in the states to increase their own wealth. That is why working families can’t get ahead of the cost of health care and education; why financial speculators run amok; and why the recent tax bill gives most of the breaks to the top 1 percent.
Congress, elected with big money, will never act on its own to propose the Constitutional amendment that is required. But there is in the Constitution an alternative path for situations such as this: Article V allows two-thirds of the state legislatures to pass resolutions calling for a convention for proposing a constitutional amendment.
In the past, once sufficient momentum has built among the state legislatures, Congress has seen the writing on the wall and acted themselves, to receive credit and to maintain control over the amendment.
Although there has never been an Article V Convention, campaigns by the people through their state legislatures have been instrumental in motivating Congress to propose most of our amendments including the Bill of Rights and direct election of U.S. Senators.
Opponents of this approach cite fears of a runaway convention, ignoring the clear language of Article V that says conventions can only propose amendments and that all amendments, however, proposed, must be ratified by 75 percent of the state legislatures.
During the 2018 legislative session, House Speaker Mike Busch supported the Democracy Amendment Resolution (for an Article V Convention), which passed 94-42 on a bi-partisan vote. A majority in the Senate (25 of 47) co-sponsored the Resolution, and Senate President Mike Miller promised his support, but it was derailed in the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Next year’s state legislators are running for election in November. Before you vote, ask each of them if he or she supports election reform via the Democracy Amendment Resolution and other key campaign election reform bills.
Our all-volunteer, self-funded campaign for grassroots democracy shows that when the people act it makes a real difference.
Charlie Cooper is president of Get Money Out. He can be reached at charlie@GetMoneyOutMD.org.