Reclaim the American Dream

Progress Report: Amend the Constitution

Progress Report:
Amend the Constitution

17 States, 680 Localities Vote to Roll Back ‘Citizens United’

Seventeen states from coast to coast, reacting against the Citizens United decision, have gone on record in favor of a constitutional amendment to restore the power of Congress and the states to put some limits on campaign spending. At the local level, too, there’s a crescendo in the call for reform. More than 680 local governments from Sarasota, FL to Midway City, KY and Conway, Arkansas to Salt Lake City, Utah and San Luis Obispo, California have also demanded constitutional action to reinstitute controls on campaign spending.

State actions have come either through popular referendums, legislative resolutions or collective letters from state legislators to Congress. Among cities, the Los Angeles referendum in May 2013  is fairly typical. Passed by a 77% majority vote, it instructed elected officials to press for an amendment, stating that “there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings.”

Check our state-by-state rundown below to find out where your state stands or whether actions have been taken by major cities near you. The states that have taken some action include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia. There have been other movements to join that list in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire  and Washington State.

The Push for Reform Came Fast

Grass roots reaction came swiftly against the Supreme Court’s ruling in January 2010 in Citizens United that authorized unlimited spending by corporations and unions from their general treasuries.

HawaiiFirstJust three months later, the state legislature in Hawaii passed a resolution calling on Congress to propose and send to the states a Constitutional Amendment restoring to Congress and the states the power to regulate corporate campaign donations.

In 2012, legislatures in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and California, passed similar resolutions.   In 2013, legislative action for a constitutional amendment was taken by Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and West Virginia.

As the movement spread, some states took a different approach. In Delaware and Maryland a majority of the state’s Senate and House of Delegates signed a letter to Congress calling for a Constitutional amendment. In Connecticut, a majority of the state’s senators and representatives signed a similar letter. In New York, majorities of lawmakers in both houses of the state legislature signed five different letters from  different party caucuses, all calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the impact of the Citizens United ruling and restore legislative power to regulate campaign finance.

Groundswell from the Grass Roots

But the most striking show of popular discontent and the most visible popular groundswell for campaign reform came in Colorado and Montana in the November 2012 elections. Popular votes on the constitutional amendment are scheduled in California and Washington State in the 2016 elections.

In Colorado and Montana, the reform proposal swept to victory. Overwhelming majorities backed ballot initiatives calling for a constitutional amendment to empower Congress and the states to reinstate campaign finance controls. In Colorado,  the proposal was backed by more than 1,650,000 voters, or roughly 73 percent of those who cast ballots.

As the votes in Colorado and Montana illustrate, the drive to control the rising tide of Mega Money in elections draws support from across the political spectrum at the grass roots – from Republicans, independents and Democrats. In Colorado, every single county in the state had a majority in favor of reform – red counties as well as blue and purple counties.

Congress Is Out of Step with Voters

Yet Congress and a couple of dozen state legislatures still resist the demands of a large majority of voters. In September 2014, a majority of U.S. Senators pushed for a constitutional amendment but their 54-42 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to quell the threat of an opposition filibuster. It was a partisan clash: All 42 “No” votes came from Republicans and all 54 “Yes” votes came from Democrats.

But solid Republican opposition to systemic reforms is splintering. During the 2016 presidential primary campaign, GOP presidential contenders. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush came out in favor of a constitutional amendment. In various states, some Republican legislators support reforms to curb runaway campaign spending as does U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Tea Party Republican. “If we want to change Washington and return power to the citizens of this nation, we have to change the way campaigns are financed,” Jones asserts. “The status quo is dominated by deep-pocketed special interests, and that’s simply unacceptable to the American people.”

New Hampshire Towns Vote Yes

New Hampshire is typical of states where a constitutional amendment on MoneyPolitics has generated a clash between elected lawmakers and grass roots opinion. New Hampshire still uses traditional town meetings and local petitions to let voters take a stand on issues. Since 2014, voters in 69 towns have passed local ballot initiatives calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision and to limit campaign spending.

In May 2014, heeding the town votes, a solid majority of the New Hampshire House of Representatives – 154 Democrats joined by 29 Republicans – voted in favor of a constitutional amendment resolution. But ten days later, the Republican majority in the state senate voted 12-11 to block the proposal.

In 2015, campaign reform was back on the legislature’s agenda, with Republicans controlling both houses. The senate gave unanimous bipartisan approval to a bill “recognizing the need” for a U.S. constitutional amendment and tasking a study committee to analyze the options. But the house did a zig-zag dance. A strong resolution endorsing a constitutional amendment narrowly passed, but minutes later, with the electronic voting machines malfunctioning, that vote was reversed. Vote switching by 13 house Republicans killed the bill, setting up constitutional reform as a campaign issue in 2016.

Taking Voter Protest to the U.S. Capitol Steps


Even with all the popular backing already generated, any effort to amend the U.S. Constitution entails a sustained popular campaign for passage. As polls indicate, so many Americans are angry about  skyrocketing campaign spending by corporations and the super rich that the issue keeps gaining momentum around the country.

CapitolStepsDemocracySpring2016

Protestors on U.S. Capitol steps demand MegaMoney out of politics. (Hedrick Smith)

Average Americans say they don’t want to see American democracy on the auction block, sold to the highest bidder. Popular grass roots pressures have caused hundreds of city councils, county commissions and state legislators to endorse a constitutional amendment.

In April 2016, several thousand Americans took a week of protest marches to the U.S. Capitol steps to underscore public anger at Congress for ignoring popular demands for constitutional reforms to restore controls on campaign spending. In an echo of the civil rights protests of the 1960s, demonstrators who came from as far away as Guam and Presque Isle, Maine and some of whom marched by foot 140 miles from Philadelphia, engaged in civil disobedience, deliberately inviting arrest to try to force Congress to take notice.

In all, 1,300 people were arrested, including such leaders as Kai Newkirk of 99Rise, Robert Weissman of Public Citizen, Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America, Cornell Brooks of the NAACP, Rev. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement,  and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Several thousands more marchers and activists cheered those who dared arrest.

“I believe that courage is contagious,” said demonstrator Frances Moore Lappe of Boston.”If other people see us taking action, then I think they’ll have the courage to join in.” Newkirk said it was crucial to move beyond emails and tweeting to direct action to show politicians how strongly Americans feel about the money corrupting our democracy. Weissman asserted that the protest week organized by the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening signaled that the reform movement is stepping up its militancy.

A Legal Move to Undercut SuperPAC Funding

Three months later, in July, a bipartisan group of six members and candidates for Congress made a direct challenge to the funding of SuperPACs in a formal complaint to the Federal Election Commission. With a high profile bipartisan legal team drawn from Harvard and the Bush Administration, they argued that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in the SpeechNow.org case,  had stretched the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in a way that left a ceiling on contributions to candidates but no limits on funding for SuperPACs.

“The situation … is one that Congress never enacted and people would never support,” said Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard. “The law permits a very severe limit on the amount an individual can give to someone’s campaign, but at the same time that could be evaded by giving millions to SuperPACs….The Supreme Court never approved anything like that.”

But with the FEC paralyzed for years by a three-to-three Republican-Democratic split, analysts were dubious about the prospects for the complaint. In a comment to The Washington Post, conservative election law attorney James Bopp Jr. dismissed it as “a case going nowhere.”

 


Check Your State in Our 50-state Rundown:

Alabama:

  • No State Action taken.AmendStatesJune2016

 

Alaska:

  • Feb. 8, 2013- Legislation is introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action is taken.

 

Arizona:

  • Jan. 29, 2014 – Bill introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action is taken.

 

California:

 

Colorado:

 

Connecticut:

 

Delaware:

 

District of Columbia:

  • Feb. 5, 2013 – DC City Council unanimously passes a resolution characterizing Citizens United ruling as “a serious and direct threat to our democracy” and calling upon Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

 

Florida:

  • October-November 2011 – South Miami and Orlando City Councils pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to reject Supreme Court rulings that recognize “corporate personhood” and “money is speech” in election campaigns.
  • Jan. 5, 2012 – Members of Florida House and Senate introduce “The People’s Rights Amendment’ resolution urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Bills are referred to committee and no further legislative action is taken.
  • March 2012 – City Councils in Tampa Bay and Key West adopt resolutions “condemning” Citizens United decision and calling for a constitutional amendment to “rectify” Supreme Court rulings on campaign spending.
  • January-August 2013 –Gainesville City Commission and Sarasota County Council pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people and money is not speech.

 

Georgia:

  • Feb. 15, 2013 -Legislation is introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.
  • Feb. 28, 2013 – second bill introduced. No decisive legislative action taken.
  • Sept. 15, 2014 – Atlanta City Council votes 12-2 in favor of Constitutional amendment to restore power of Congress to regulate campaign spending, joining 550 other U.S. cities that have taken similar action.

 

Hawaii:

 

Idaho:

  • Feb. 24, 2010 – Legislation introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action is taken.

 

Illinois:

  • July 25, 2012 -Chicago Board of Aldermen passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would provide that “the rights protected by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons,” and that “Congress and the States shall have the power to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures.”
  • Nov. 2012 – 74% majority of Chicago voters backed a Take Back Our Vote measure asking Congress to pass a resolution setting in motion the process of “adopting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, empowering the federal government and the states to regulate and limit political contributions from corporations?”
  • May 31, 2013 – Illinois House of Representatives passes resolution, previously passed by state senate on May 14, calling on Congress to move to amend the Constitution, assertingthat such an amendment should make clear that the rights of persons protected by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons and not those of corporations or other artificial entities.”

 

Indiana:

  • No state action on issue.

 

Iowa:

 

Kansas:

  • Jan. 28, 2013 – Bill is introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.

 

Kentucky:

  • Jan. 8, 2013 – Bill introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.

 

Louisiana:

  • No state action is taken on this issue.

 

Maine:

  • April 30, 2013 – Maine’s Senate and House pass joint resolution calling on the state’s Congressional delegation to support and promote a constitutional amendment in Congress reaffirming the “the power of citizens through their government to regulate the raising and spending of money in elections.”

 

Massachusetts:

  • July 2012 – Massachusetts Senate and House pass a resolution characterizing the Citizens United ruling as a “threat to our democracy” and calling for the U.S. Congress to “restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.”

 

Maryland:

  • April 2012 – A majority of Maryland’s House of Delegates and State Senate sign a letter calling on Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification “as soon as is practicable” a constitutional amendment revoking the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and restoring fair elections.
  • In their collective letter, state’s legislators note that “Article V of the United States Constitution empowers the people, the states and the Congress to use the constitutional amending process to protect republican self-government,: and go onto state: “As Members of the Maryland General Assembly, we sharply disagree with the majority decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and call upon the United States Congress to propose and send to the states for ratification as soon as is practicable a constitutional amendment to reverse this decision and restore fair elections and democratic sovereignty to the states and to the people.”

 

Michigan:

  • Aug. to Oct. 2012 – City councils in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Ypsilanti pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, abolished “corporate personhood” and overturned Supreme Court rulings that “money is speech.”

 

Minnesota:

  • Jan. 13, 2013 – Legislation is introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.

 

Mississippi:

  • Jan. 11, 2013 – Legislation is introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.

 

Missouri:

  • Feb. 14, 2012 – Bill is introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.

 

Montana:

  • Nov. 6, 2012 –Montana voter referendum passes Ballot Initiative 166, “Stand with Montanans” by a 75% majority, declaring as “state policy that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings, and charges Montana elected and appointed officials, state and federal, to implement that policy.”
  • “With this policy,” the initiative asserts, “the people of Montana establish that there should be a level playing field in campaign spending, in part by prohibiting corporate campaign contributions and expenditures and by limiting political spending in elections. Further, Montana’s congressional delegation is charged with proposing a joint resolution offering an amendment to the United States Constitution establishing that corporations are not human beings entitled to constitutional rights.”

 

Nebraska:

  • Jan. 17, 2013 – Legislation introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. No decisive legislative action taken.

 

Nevada:

  • March 18, 2013 -Legislation introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending. Voted down in Senate April 15, 2013.

 

New Hampshire:

  • March and April 2014 – 53 New Hampshire towns pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and empower Congress and state legislatures to regulate campaign expenditures.
  • May 15, 2014 –With bipartisan support, New Hampshire House passes a resolution for a constitutional amendment with 29 Republicans joining 154 Democrats in favor, but Senate blocks measure by 12-11 vote referring the question to a study committee.
  • March 2015 – With 67 New Hampshire towns on record favoring a U.S. Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and restore the power of Congress to regulate campaign finance, the state senate unanimously adopts a resolution “recognizing the need for a constitutional amendment” and votes to set up a study committee to review amendments proposed in Congress.
  • January 2016 – New Hampshire House kills Senate-passed study committee proposal and then, in confusing turmoil, votes first to pass and then to reject a resolution for a U.S. constitutional amendment to restore power of Congress to regulate campaign spending. The first vote in favor was 156-152, but minutes later voting on a “motion to reconsider,” with the electronic voting machine broken, the House reverses and rejects the measure by 159-144, with 12 Republican members in the GOP-dominated assembly switching from Yea to Nay.

 

New Jersey:

 

New Mexico:

 

New York:

  • March 27, 2012 – a memorialization urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United passes the New York Assembly’s Election Law Committee. No further action is taken.
  • Jan. 11, 2012 – Buffalo City Council passes a resolution calling for a Congressional clarification of natural personhood and a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.
  • June 13, 2016 – A majority of New York State Assembly – 71 Democrats, four Republicans and one independent – sign a joint letter calling on Congress to approve an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would reverse the impact of Citizens United ruling, by restoring the power of federal, state and local governments “to limit, regulate and require full source disclosure of all money spent to influence elections.” The letter to Congress also urges that the amendment establish that “artificial entities” such as corporations and unions “are not entitled to same rights and protections as natural persons under the Constitution.”
  • June 15, 2016 – A majority of New York State Senate – 25 Democrats, two Republicans, and five independents – disclose they have written four separate letters deploring the Citizens United decision and the flood of new money in American election campaigns, and calling upon Congress to initiate action for a constitutional amendment to restore the power of Congress and the states to regulate campaign funding and to differentiate between the free speech rights of individuals and corporations.

 

North Carolina:

  • Feb. 19, 2013 and Feb. 27, 2013 – Bills introduced for Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending, but no decisive legislative action taken.

 

North Dakota:

  • No state action on the issue.

 

Ohio:

  • Dec. 10, 2012 -Akron City Council passes resolution calling for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. The resolution is “declared to be an emergency measure necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health, safety and welfare… to defend democracy from effects of undue corporate power…” Similar resolutions are passed by city councils in Athens, Oberlin, Cleveland Heights, and Barberton City.

 

Oklahoma:

  • No state action on the issue.

 

Oregon:

 

Pennsylvania:

  • May 6, 2013 – Fifteen state representatives in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly introduce a resolution petitioning Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider an amendment empowering Congress and the states to regulate political spending. It is referred to the Committee on State Government and has seen no further action.
  • June 21, 2012 – Philadelphia’s City Council passes a resolution calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United.
  • June 25, 2012 -Reading City Council approves similar measure, joining the action of several other local governments, including Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Lehman.

 

Rhode Island:

  • May 2012- Rhode Island Senate and House pass joint resolutions characterizing the Citizens United ruling as a “dramatic reversal of established” precedent and calling for the U.S. Congress to pass a constitutional amendment “effectively overturn[ing]” the ruling. Governor Lincoln Chafee subsequently signed the joint resolution.

 

South Carolina:

  • No state action on the issue.

 

South Dakota:

  • March 9, 2010 – Bill introduced Constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United decision and restore power of Congress and states to regulate campaign spending, but fails to pass House of Representatives.

 

Tennessee:

  • No state action on the issue.

 

Texas:

  • Nov. 12, 2012 –Three Texas state senators introduce a resolution calling for a vote urging Congress to submit an amendment to the states for ratification, reversing Citizens United. The bill is referred Committee. No action taken.
  • Jan. 8, 2013 –Similar measure calling for a constitutional amendment is introduced in state House and referred to committee. No action taken.
  • Jan. 17, 2013 – Austin City Council passes a resolution urging Congress to amend the Constitution in reversal of Citizens United.

 

Utah:

  • No state action on the issue.

 

Vermont:

  • May 2, 2014 – Vermont, citing the failure of Congress to act, becomes the first state to formally petition Congress to convene a constitutional convention to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and restore legal limits on campaign funding.
  • In passing Joint Senate Resolution 27, the Vermont legislature said it “hereby petitions the U.S. Congress to call a convention for the sole purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America that would limit the corrupting influence of money in our electoral process, including, inter alia, by overturning the Citizens United decision.”
  • This action, declared Rep. Mike Yantachka, Democrat from Charlotte, was intended “to kick-start a movement that I hope will spread throughout the country and let people become aware of the real problems we have with the influence of money on elections and on our public policy.”

 

Virginia:

  • Dec. 9, 2013 – City Council of Falls Church, northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, passes a resolution calling for for the formal support for a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens Untied from Virginia General Assembly and the U.S. Congress.
  • Sept. 10, 2013 – City Council of Alexandria, another Northern Virginian suburb of Washington, passes a similar resolution supporting an amendment reversing Citizens United, delineating the rights of corporations and natural persons, the difference between money and speech, an establishing the regulation of political expenditures.

 

Washington State:

  • March 7, 2013 – Washington State House of Representatives passed by 55-42  a resolution requesting that Congress pass and send to the states a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United decision  and restoring power of federal and state governments to regulate campaign finance. Similar measure is introduced in state senate by ten co-sponsors in June, 2013, but not acted upon by Senate.
  • Feb. 2014 – Washington Amend, a grass roots coalition nicknamed WAmend, charges that “unlimited and anonymous money has corrupted our political system” and launches petition drive to put on November 2014 ballot a citizens’ initiative on a U.S. constitutional amendment to curb campaign spending. At June 30, 2014 deadline, campaign has 171,667 signatures, falling 75,000 signatures short of the required minimum.
  • April 25, 2015 – New petition drive is launched by more broadly based WAmend coalition aimed at putting I-735, a citizens initiative for a U.S. constitutional amendment to reverse Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and to curb campaign spending, on the 2016 election ballot.
  • Dec. 9, 2015 – WAmend announces “We Made It” – exceeding the required 250,000 signatures needed to put state initiative I-735 on 2016 election ballot. With 333,040 signatures in hand, the petition movement triggers the mechanism for statewide vote on a U.S. constitutional amendment  in November.
  • Jan. 28, 2016 – After random sampling of petitions, Secretary of State Kim Wyman verifies that petition drive got enough signers to put the issue of constitutional amendment on November ballot.
  • Nov. 8, 2016 – By a 62.7% majority, Washington voters (1,847,419 in favor) approve initiative for an amendment to U.S. Constitution that would overturn Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision sanctioning unlimited corporate contributions to election campaigns and that would empower Congress and the states to regulate campaign funding and spending.  Similar measures have passed by popular vote in California, Colorado and Montana. Although the popular vote is not legally binding on the state’s congressional delegation, Cindy Black, executive director of WaMend, the main citizens group promoting the amendment, said the citizen movement would keep pressure on the state’s two senators and ten members of the House (6 Democrats and 4 Republicans) to work actively for a constitutional amendment.

West Virginia:

  • March 28, 2013 – West Virginia’s House passes resolution calling upon Congress “to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United” ruling.
  • April 10, 2013 – West Virginia’s Senate passes resolution calling upon Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United. 

 

Wisconsin:

 

Wyoming:

  • No state action on the issue.

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