Four years after an activist majority on the United States Supreme Court struck down barriers to the buying of elections by multinational corporations—with the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that signaled an intention to dismantle remaining restraints on money in politics—a broad-based movement has emerged to undo the damage done by the Court.
This is a coalition that refuses to tinker around the edges of the crisis.
It is boldly demanding that the US Constitution be amended—a reform sufficient to prevent the High Court from transforming American democracy into a dollarocracy.
“I’ll grant that it’s not easy. Amending the Constitution should not be easy,” says Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which has been a key player in the movement. “But in just four years, we’ve brought what many deemed a pipe dream into the mainstream.”
People for the American Way president Michael Keegan agrees.
While there is no question that “the deeply misguided Citizens United ruling four years ago brought immeasurable harm to our democracy,” Keegan says, “it also inspired a re-energized national movement to get big money out of politics.”
That movement has accomplished more than all but the most optimistic reformers could have imagined on January 21, 2010.
Sixteen American states have formally demanded that Congress recognize that the Constitution must be amended in order to re-establish the basic American premise that “money is property and not speech, and [that] the Congress of the United States, state legislatures and local legislative bodies should have the authority to regulate political contributions and expenditures…”
Six states made the call for corporate accountability in a three-month period last year, making 2013 a banner year for a movement that began with little attention and little in the way of institutional support following the US Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling.
Support for an amendment now stretches from coast to coast, with backing (in the form of legislative resolutions or statewide referendum results) from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. The District of Columbia is also supportive of the move to amend, as are roughly 500 municipalities, from Liberty, Maine, to Los Angeles, California—where 77 percent of voters backed a May 2013, referendum instructing elected representatives to seek an amendment establishing that “there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings.”
The numbers will expand in 2014, as grassroots activists make organized demands for action in hundreds of communities and more than a dozen states. In Wisconsin, to mark the four-year anniversary, legislators and activist groups such as United Wisconsin, ramped up their campaign for a statewide referendum on the amendment issue. In Washington state, WAmend activists have launched a massive statewide campaign to get the issue on the November 2014, ballot.