By Michael Anderson
When I joined Humanists of Minnesota in January, I had no idea what I was getting into. And it’s all good! One of the first events I attended as a member was a presentation in February by Jeff Clements, President of American Promise, with Social Action Team leader Meline Juarez.
American Promise is one of the organizations that are pushing for passage of the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a proposal to counteract the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling. I must confess that until that day I had no idea that this effort even existed.
The Supreme Court said that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and that the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. In short, corporations or unions could not give money directly to individual campaigns but they could persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads are not broadcast.
I don’t need to tell you how devastating this ruling has been for our democracy. The result is that an extremely small minority (30 families including the Koch brothers) have spent billions of dollars in the last eight years to influence people. The Koch brothers and 13 other super-rich conservatives spent $960 million in the 2016 election alone.
Clements was in town to promote action by individuals and the State Legislature to enable Minnesota to become the 20th state to pass the 28th Amendment. MN American Promise worked with Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections, the League of Women Voters Minnesota, and Common Cause of Minnesota to put a resolution before Legislature. The intro reads:
A resolution memorializing Congress; requesting that Congress clarify the rights protected under the Constitution are the rights of natural persons and not rights of artificial entities and that spending money to influence elections is not speech under the First Amendment; asking that Congress propose a constitutional amendment to provide such clarification.
These groups worked with two Democratic legislators, Sen. John Marty and Rep. Raymond Dehn, to introduce SF1082 and HF2139 for action in the 2018 session. Unfortunately when I checked on the status of these two bills I learned that neither has made it out of committee. The official explanation provided to me by committee contacts was the proposals did not “meet the deadline,” meaning for all practical purposes that no action will be taken in this legislative session.
As a follow-up I contacted Vicki Barnes, MN American Promise State Coordinator, to get her take on what happened. She said Marty and Dehn were enthusiastic about the legislation, but the (Republican) committee chairs not so much. Vicki said supporters knew it would be a long shot to get committee approvals, but she hasn’t given up on the process. She said the proposal for a 28th Amendment has a lot of support in both the metropolitan area and greater Minnesota.
Now, she said, we need to make this an issue in the 2018 election campaigns and bring the matter to our local governments. I will keep HofMN posted about developments. But please let your legislators know you want them to push for this amendment. For more information and tips, see the MN American Promise website or feel free to contact Vicki Barnes at (218) 214-2221 or email@example.com.
While I fully support action to overturn Citizens United and place reasonable limitation on campaign spending (and, ideally, limit the campaign period) , I find the portion of the resolution that says that spending to influence elections is not free speech to be at least problematic, and possibly downright terrifying. By defining spending as not speech, you open the door to unreasonable, and maybe unlimited, restrictions on campaigning. (After all, aside from door knocking, every campaign activity requires spending money, and the whole purpose of a campaign is to influence the election.) Big, broad solutions often come with very unpleasant unexpected consequences. Better to attack the specific problem, which is unlimited contributions. The constitutional amendment should clarify that Congress may legislate reasonable limits on contributions. I don’t know what the exact wording is to define how reasonable is established, but it is certainly not language that could be interpreted down the road as banning campaign spending entirely.
There is a definite need to place limitations on corporate contributions to candidates. Until we can get this done, our representatives will never truly represent their constituents, but will continue to be beholding to the corporate donations. I see this movement as beginning the conversation on how to accomplish fair elections. I do disagree with combining Unions with that group, however.. Unions ask that their members to contribute to their PACs in order to promote laws that benefit working people..Not the same in the instance of corporations, that promote their profit line at the expense of the common people. Until we overturn Citizens United, we will never have a government that truly works for the people.
Very well researched and stated.