A national good-government watchdog group is launching a coast-to-coast campaign to have voters urge Congress to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and limit political spending by amending the U.S. Constitution.
Common Cause’s “Amend 2012” campaign will aim to place initiatives on this November’s ballots – either by gathering petition signatures or through legislative action – that would urge Congress to act. A constitutional amendment will take years to pass, coming far too late to stem the tide of money that’s already flooding this year’s election, but organizers say this effort at least will give outraged voters a voice and inject the issue into November’s vote, forcing candidates to take a position on it.
The effort initially will focus on signature-gathering drives in Colorado, Montana and Massachusetts; that might expand to Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio and Washington.
Derek Cressman, Common Cause’s Sacramento-based western regional director, said California’s size and schedule make it “an awfully steep lift” to gather enough signatures in time to put such a measure on November’s ballot. Instead, the campaign is exploring having the state Legislature or local governments do so.
“We’re in effect creating a road map for voters to demand a national referendum on reversing Citizens United,” Common Cause board chairman Robert Reich – the former U.S. Labor Secretary and current University of California, Berkeley professor – said on a conference call with reporters this morning.
“Reform is not going to happen from the inside because the insiders all benefit from the current system,” Reich said. “It’s our view that it will take a constitutional amendment to take our country back and restore confidence in our democracy.”
The proposed amendment would affirm that only people – not corporations – are people, and that campaign spending can be limited.
Common Cause President and CEO Bob Edgar said Americans all across the political spectrum “have lost faith in Washington, they don’t think the government works for them anymore.” It’s that “need to be heard above the noise” that first fueled the Tea Party, and more recently the Occupy movement.
“I’d like to think we’re part of the ‘Occupy Democracy’ movement,” Edgar said.
“Undoubtedly, the protestor momentum is part of this,” Reich agreed, noting he has spoken at several Occupy events in recent months; among them was the Nov. 15 Occupy Cal event on Sproul Plaza. “What I hear over and over again is that we have to take back democracy.”
Edgar said gathering petition signatures or lobbing state legislatures to put measures on state ballots will be “a true grassroots effort, built from the bottom up” but also will carry costs. “We don’t have enough, we need more money, we are raising money” to support this campaign, he said.
But he said he’s confident that super PACs’ exorbitant spending as this year progresses will help loosen people’s wallets. “As more people get to know of the concern, more resources will be coming forward.”
Just a few weeks into the presidential primaries, Reich noted, “we’ve already got super PACs run by the candidates’ friends and former staffs spending millions. All this is making a mockery out of our campaign laws and contribution limits, and it’s undermining democracy.”