Tag Archives: public campaign financing

We must amend the U.S. Constitution

The Citizens United ruling shows we must amend the U.S. Constitution

Our destiny – our laws and public policy – should be determined by people and the public interest — not by Wall Street banks and global corporations and their private interest.

In the Citizens United ruling (January 2010), the Supreme Court said that corporations have the same rights as persons to free speech, including political speech. This allows corporate entities to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes and lawmaking. And they are doing it.

“One-person, one-vote” becomes “one-dollar, one-vote” — because of the power of money to purchase media, to influence election outcomes, and to influence laws with expensive lobbying.

  • Corporate influence in Congress is why Wall Street banks got big bailouts and bonuses.
  • It’s why health care insurance premiums keep rising and prescription drugs cost so much.
  • It’s why oil dominates our energy policy -and why corporate farms and food additives dominate our food supply.
  • And it’s why factories are closed when global corporate owners can make more profit overseas – regardless of the impact on local communities and families.

Can Congress overturn Citizens United by law?

No. When the Supreme Court declares a law unconstitutional, as they did in Citizens United, that takes precedence over any law or act of Congress.

Congress can try to bandage the damage within the scope of the Supreme Court ruling. But so long as corporate wealth shares power equally with people – protected as “free speech” through court rulings – campaigns, elections and lawmaking itself will be auctions, “for sale” to the highest bidder.

Public financing for campaigns would partially offset the power of private wealth. But only an amendment to the constitution is durable as “the final word” to protect American democracy.

Can states take action to limit undue corporate influence?

States can amend their constitutions to prevent undue influence by wealthy donors and political speech by global corporations. And they should. Corporate charters granted by states can specify what a corporation is allowed to do. Some states and local cities are passing laws that limit corporate activity to the economic sphere only, and prohibiting corporations from engaging in political electioneering.

But such state laws might be overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court – using the same reasoning as in the Citizens United ruling – unless the Constitution is amended.

Constitutional amendments have been done before

In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted by 3/4ths of the states – within four months! — giving voting rights to anyone 18 or older. It was motivated by popular uprising resulting from the Vietnam War era: “If I’m old enough to be drafted, I’m old enough to vote!”

Boston Tea Party (1773) — a response to undue corporate influence

Our nation’s founding began when the American colonies rose up against a corporate monopoly. The East India Tea Company used their wealth and power in the British Parliament to achieve tax preferences on imported tea – undercutting local business in the American colonies. In effect, this “WalMart-ization” of the tea trade led to the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the great American experiment in democracy.

Now, two centuries later, we have global corporations exercising their wealth and muscle in our democracy. It’s time once again to reclaim the vision and promises of our nations’ founding – and to amend the constitution to spell it out. People – not corporations, and not wealth and privilege – should determine our nation’s destiny!
And we must amend the U.S. Constitution to clearly say so.

Craig Salins is Executive Director of Washington Public Campaigns, www.washclean.org

Supreme Court will hear challenge to Arizona’s Clean Elections program

by Craig Salins

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next spring on the constitutionality of “rescue” matching funds – a key component of Arizona’s Clean Elections program that provides additional funds to Clean Elections candidates when they are outspent by privately-financed opponents or face opposition by independent ads . The court’s decision to hear the case was announced Monday, Nov. 29th.

Additional info – links on the Supreme Court case, McComish v. Bennett —

SCOTUS takes Arizona Clean Elections (rescue funds) case(Seattle Times)

SCOTUS to hear challenge to AZ’s Clean Elections law(AZCentral.com)

Brennan Center will defend AZ Clean Elections program(Brennan Center)

End of Public Financing? (Brennan Center post, by Mimi Murray Digby Marziani)


This lawsuit (McComish v. Bennett) began two years ago, when some Republican candidates – assisted by attorney Bill Maurer of the libertarian-leaning law firm Institute for Justice – argued that their fundraising (and therefore their speech) was “chilled” because funds they raised would simply provide more matching dollars to publicly-financed candidates.

In January 2009, a U.S. district judge in Phoenix found the matching funds provision unconstitutional. In May, 2010, the Ninth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the law, issuing a stay to overturn the Arizona District Court. But then Clean Elections opponents asked the Supreme Court to intervene and block distribution of Clean Elections Act matching funds – and the Court did so (in June), pending a decision whether to hear the case.

Nearly no one is surprised the Supreme Court has chosen to hear this case. Opinions and rulings from various districts and federal circuit courts have been divided on whether public financing of campaigns – and in particular, the matching “rescue” funds feature that is part of most state Clean Elections programs – is constitutional under First Amendment “free speech” provisions.

We certainly know of the Supreme Court’s leanings, evidenced by the Citizens United ruling last January, and by the Court’s tossing out the “Millionaire’s Amendment” provision (Davis v. FEC) of the McCain-Feingold law, last year. Will the Court expand the lawsuit to rule against public financing of campaigns in general? – or will they confine a ruling to only the question of triggered matching funds? We don’t know.

But it should be clearer than ever that democracy in America is imperiled – by growing concentration of wealth at the top and by the power of money to influence election outcomes and lawmaking itself. Main Street households are often busy trying to survive in a depressed economy. Voters can easily be swayed by clever issue ads, spin and half-truths – especially on complex public policy issues with no easy answers.

It’s time for the Supreme Court to side with people (that is, flesh-and-blood natural persons) instead of money and wealth.

Since the court seems inclined otherwise – it’s time for a broad national movement to clarify (by a constitutional amendment) that “free speech” is intended as a right of the people, not as a means for money or corporate interests to hijack self-government – and the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – in America.

For details, visit MoveToAmend.org.

Also, FreeSpeechForPeople.org

Also, see the back page of WPC’s proposals to the 2011 legislative session

~ Craig Salins


WA Public Campaigns / washclean.org / wpc@washclean.org

Seattle PI Endorses Public Financing for Judges

This last election cycle in Washington State pointed out the vulnerability of our state judicial system to special interest money. One group, the BIAW (Building Industry Association), made a play for buying several seats on the Washington State Supreme Court to represent their special interests – interests like getting rid of growth management and zoning laws and environmental laws they didn’t like.

The BIAW’s raw power play pointed out the dangers of special interest money intent on winning no matter what the cost. The campaigning became a slug fest and saw spending records broken. It woke many people up to the reality that while the BIAW didn’t succeed this time, they or some other group could next time.

That is why there is a sudden urgent swelling of support for a solution to reduce the impact of money in elections. A grassroots citizens organization, Washington Public Campaigns, has been working for several years on public financing of campaigns and it seems it’s in the right place at the right time.

Washington Public Campaigns has 3 legislative bills they are pushing in the Legislative session starting in January in Olympia. One is to allow a local option for public campaign financing. The second is for public financing of judicial races. And the third is for public financing of all local legislative and state wide races.

Today the Seattle PI endorsed public financing of judicial races. Governor Gregoire has added $4.4 million dollars in her proposed budget to do just that. And House Majority Leader Frank Chopp has said that it is a priority of his and fellow Democrats to pass a bill. He also supports and believes that a local option for public financing will pass.

The more comprehensive bill covering state and legislative races is more of a long shot, even though both Maine and Arizona have enacted such legislation with good results. North Carolina enacted legislation for public financing of judicial races in 2002.

Its time for Washington State to take the first step and support public financing of State Supreme Court and Appellate races. The Judiciary needs to independent for it to be fair and impartial. It can not be so if court seats go to the biggest spenders.