Wednesday evening I went to a meeting of eastside MoveToAmend activists, in Bellevue. Attendees discussed plans in place to collect signatures for I-1329, the initiative in support of an amendment to the US Constitution overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that treats corporations as people and money as speech.
Once the Secretary of State’s office approves the wording of the petition (expected any day), signature gatherers have until June to collect 360,000 signatures. Then the initiative would appear on the ballot in November.
Unlike the case for some signature gathering campaigns, MoveToAmend Washington plans to use volunteer signature gathering. Someone said that Tim Eyman paid $8 per signature for his last, failed, initiative campaign.
Since the eastside of Seattle has about 8% of the state’s population, signature gatherers here should gather at least 8% of 360,000, or about 30,000 signatures — preferably more, since this part of the state has more concentrated population and more progressive voters than the eastern part of the state.
The webpage for WAmend is http://www.wamend.org/. The full text of the initiative is here. Here is a summary, and the here is the concise description submitted to the Washington State Secretary of State.
The initiative, I-1329, is only advisory: its purpose, as I understand it, is to pressure the legislature into supporting an amendment to the US Constitution. But first Congress has to propose and amendment and send it to the states.
As it says in the FAQ for MoveToAmend,
An amendment [to the US Constitution] has to be proposed either by a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress, or else by a constitutional convention convened when the legislatures of 2/3 of the states so request. The amendment has to be ratified either by the legislatures of 3/4 of the states, or by conventions in 3/4 of the states, depending on which means of ratification Congress proposes.
There are in fact, several competing proposed amendments to overturn Citizens United (see this discussion). Most of the amendments give Congress the power to regulate campaign spending. Not all of them overturn corporate personhood and not all of them clearly state that money is not speech.
In 2013, the state House passed HJM4001, “Requesting an amendment to the United States Constitution to return the authority to regulate election campaign contributions to congress and state legislatures.” But its counterpart in the state Senate, SJM 8002, died due to Republican control of the Senate. Two previous resolutions were also introduced in the state legislature.
For a nationwide list of resolutions in legislatures see here.
After the meeting, I spoke with Jay Heyman, one of the MoveToAmend activists. I wanted him to address my doubts about the effort.
Is the effort not hopeless, I asked, given the high bar (3/4 of state legislatures agreeing) and the control by Republicans of many state houses? Even Washington State senate failed to pass a resolution.
Heyman said that even in conservative states like Montana, there has been overwhelming support among voters for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. Voters in both Montana (a red state) and Colorado (a purple state) approved initiatives by margins of over 70% (source):
“The results are pretty unequivocal that no matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent you’re pretty mad about Citizens United,” said Derek Cressman, who helped author both resolutions as vice president for state operations at the reform group Common Cause. “You know, Mitt Romney carried Montana with 55 percent of the vote, and 75 percent of the vote in Montana called for this amendment.”
Sixteen state have formally called for an amendment, in the form of either a legislature’s resolution or a citizen initiative.
Apparently, neither Montana’s nor Colorado’s legislature has passed a resolution in support of an amendment.
On the other hand, even if the states (including Washington) pass a resolution like I-1329, it will have no legal, constitutional effect. Congress must first propose an amendment, by 2/3rd majorities in both houses. Then it takes 3/4 of the states to ratify a concrete amendment proposed by Congress. A legislature’s resolution is like a “letter to Santa Claus” — albeit a convincing letter — asking Congress to propose an amendment. And so, if the voters approve I-1329, that will be like a letter to Santa Claus’s elves asking them to write a letter to Santa Claus, since the legislators can ignore the initiative. Thus:
I said to Mr. Heyman: even if the voters state their preference for an amendment, mightn’t the Republicans in the legislature just ignore that, the way they have ignored calls for gun control?
I can just picture conservative Rep. Pam Roach laughing as she votes against the resolution, with her hand fondling the gun in her purse.
Heyman replied: gun control is a special, weird case, with the NRA having a lot of power.
Heyman said that if the initiative goes on the ballot, almost certainly voters will approve it. And if not enough signatures are gathered, well, not all is lost; it will still raise awareness.
I suggested that if the voters approve the initiative and the legislators continue to refuse to support an amendment, that could be used as ammunition against them in re-election campaigns.
Heyman mentioned that the resolution to overturn Citizens United came close to passing in the state legislature. So I asked: Instead of working your butts off to gather signatures, why not work towards defeating Rodney Tom and other Republicans and conservative Democrats, so that we have more progressive representation in Olympia?
Heyman responded: well, we should do that too: both oppose bad legislators and work to amend the Constitution.
Heyman said that he’s lost faith in the Democratic Party; it’s not serving the people. Another attendee at the meeting expressed her disillusionment with President Obama.
I suggest: if the Democratic Party actually held politicians accountable and showed some backbone, people might be more willing to get active in the party. Instead, as soon as someone proposes that the Party criticize or censure lawmakers who betray the party’s ideals, most Democrats shout them down with, “Are you crazy? Are you trying to aide the Republicans?” The state party platform is wonderfully progressive. All we need to do is hold lawmakers accountable to is. The fault lies both with the Democrats, who are too often sellouts, and with the disillusioned progressives who give up too easily. It will take a fight to kick out the corporatists. Bring it on! (though it’s ugly, unpleasant work)
I asked: isn’t there a time limit by which 3/4th of states have to approve the amendment? No, Heyman said; that applied only to the Equal Rights Amendment.
I think it would be a damn shame if signature gatherers come short of the 360,000 signatures needed for an initiative to appear on the ballot. So I will work to help them and I encourage you to, too.
I think people would be more willing to work if they understood that there is high likelihood of success. Specifically, will Republican-controlled legislatures in the South ever agree to support an amendment? Mightn’t they ignore the will of the voters and listen to money instead.
Money should not be speech in a legal sense. But it sure talks. I continue to think that the MoveToAmend leaders should clearly address such doubts.
I want to raise awareness and excitement about the Move to Amend movement, and I want to make it fun for signature gatherers. So I propose: a Move to Amend social dance (say, swing dance). Several MoveToAmend organizers said they’d support me if I worked on the project. Anyone else interested? If so, contact me at 206-819-5965 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.