A panel of experts discussed ways to curtail the influence of big money in politics at our September chapter meeting, kicking off a new program year. They included:
Vicki Barnes, Minnesota state coordinator for both American Promise and Take Back our Republic. She discussed efforts to pass a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Americans to limit political spending. It would thus override the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which declared that such spending is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. Barnes said conservative groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association, and GPS Crossroads have spent heavily to influence elections, while the average American has “near-zero” influence on public policy (unless they are part of the elite top 10-percent). So far 19 states and more than 800 cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for a 28th Amendment. Thirty-eight states would be needed to ratify it.
State Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville). He has authored a bill (S.F. 1082) asking Congress to propose an amendment to overturn Citizens United and clarify that corporations are not people and money is not free speech. “The first Tuesday of November is supposed to be an election, not an auction,” he said. Marty said big money has given certain groups outsized influence, while others without those dollars — for example, Compassion and Choices, which promotes medical aid in dying — lose out. That turns people off to politics, he said. He supports public financing of campaigns.
Kathryn Pearson, associate professor of political science at the University of MInnesota. She said a big problem is the huge growth of “independent expenditures,” or money to groups that advocate for or against candidates but are not officially connected to any campaigns. Much of this is “dark money,” or spending by 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups that are not required to disclose their donors.
Meline Juarez, head of the Humanists of Minnesota Social Action Team, moderated the panel.
— Suzanne Perry