As first reported tonight on the The Young Turks here, Illinois recently joined Vermont and California in calling for an amendments convention to restore free and fair elections by reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
On Wednesday, the Illinois State House of Representatives passed Senate Joint Resolution 42 (“SJR42”) in a vote of 72-40 with the required 3/5ths super-majority needed.
“The purpose of this resolution, and similar resolutions around other states, is to convene a constitutional amendments convention,” stated bill co-sponsor Sen. Willie Delgado. “We need to amend this constitution to reverse the ruling on Citizens United. That ruling gave corporations “personhood” and led to the creation of Super-PACs, not only in Illinois, but throughout the nation. With SJR42, Illinois can lead the movement to save democracy in America.”
Wolf-PAC is a political action group started in 2011 by Cenk Uygur during the Occupy Wall Street protests with the express goal of recapturing our democracy from select moneyed interests. SJR42 passed on the last day of the legislative session with Wolf-PAC team leaders fulfilling the chief organizing role but their efforts were augmented by many other concerned Illinois citizens.
“I don’t think there are very many people in our country or even in this body today who believe the ramifications of the Citizens United decision has been healthy to our process,” commented Rep. Robert Martwick. “It has taken a government that is founded on the principle of by the people and for the people, and it has put it in the hands of secret money… That’s just wrong, we all know it. We should all support this; this should be a unanimous vote.”
According the Center for Responsive Politics, candidates, parties, donors, and outside groups spent a record $3.67 billion on the 2014 midterm elections, with fewer individual donors, and not including funds spent early in the cycle. This has led to a lack of public confidence in the ability or even willingness of elected officials to serve, rather than sell. For most Americans, Washington has become “the best democracy money can buy.” The recent Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has only accelerated decades old trends toward silencing everyday Americans’ ability to influence their government.
Many groups have organized around what I like to call the “separation of ‘buck’ and state,” or otherwise measures intended to contend with the polluting influence of Big Money in our corridors of power. As John Nichols reported inThe Nation, “Sixteen American states and roughly 600 communities have formally told Congress that the Constitution must be amended to make it clear that corporations are not people, money is not speech and citizens and their elected representatives have a right to organize elections that are defined by votes rather than dollars.”
The groundswell is even being felt in Washington. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in July and voted 10-8 to endorse an amendment to rectify damage done to our democratic system by a series of high-court rulings such as Citizens United.
“Any effort to overturn Citizens United is one that I feel I must support,” remarked Illinois House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie. “I would prefer the Federal Congress to decide to offer an Amendment through the states that would overturn Citizens United — they don’t seem likely to do it at this point. But it is fair to say, many times in the past, when a proposal like this reaches a critical number of states supporting it, Congress wakes up, smells the coffee, and does the right thing… If we act, maybe Congress will finally wake up and get the job done.”
Article V of U.S Constitution provides two methods for proposing amendments. Either two-thirds of Congress can vote to propose an amendment, or two-thirds of the states can demand a convention to propose an amendment. Either way it’s proposed, an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states before being added to United States Constitution. Historically, the constitution has been amended 27 times, and on average, once by every generation of Americans.
“There exist over 700 state applications [for an amendments convention] on a variety of issues including those from 49 states,” commented State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia during floor debate. “There have been over 233 state conventions to amend and adopt state constitutions with zero—once again—zero runaway conventions.” This fact alone should dispel any of the fantastic scenarios or conspiracy theories offered by convention opponents.
When examining the evidence—which is mountainous—it’s clear that the Federal government in Washington has already runaway. The voice of everyday citizens is being drowned-out by a tsunami of corporate and private dollars bending the priorities of our representatives. In a heralded Princeton study on American democracy, it concludes that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
Vicky Deppe, of the Illinois chapter of Convention of States (CoS), a conservative group calling for a convention, voiced her support for the process although provided a caveat: “We are not able to endorse the Wolf-PAC resolution specifically, but we are heartened by so many Illinois legislators that take their oath to uphold the constitution seriously and use their authority as granted by Article V.” CoS has passed convention resolutions in three states calling for limits on Federal power.
Illinois is only the third state to address the Citizens United ruling in addition to California and Vermont; it would still require 34 states to call a convention and another 38 to ratify any amendment proposal. There is growing movement of citizens throughout the country concerned about this issue, and there’s an obvious disgust with politics as usual, but only time will tell if these modern freedom fighters will be successful in their efforts.
“96% of Americans support reducing the influence of corruption in our political elections,” explained Wolf-PAC Illinois State Leader Richard Lake. “We are the government of, for, and by the people—not bought and sold by international corporations and billionaire business men.”
Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks and founder of Wolf-PAC, summed it up by saying, “We call these state legislators the new 21st Century founding mothers and fathers because they are rescuing democracy by getting money out of politics.”
Originally posted on Examiner.
(Full disclosure: author is a co-founder of Friends of the Article V Convention and supports this “time-capsule gift from our Founders” to fix the many challenges, particularly of a structural nature, that ail our republic)