Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Not to Get Money Out of Politics

Getting Money Out of Politics. There has been considerable discussion surrounding the corrupting influence of money in politics. Several sources have developed proposed Constitutional amendments to minimize the detrimental effect of political contributions and favors. You will find below a list of some proposed amendments excerpted from the Idiot’s Guide to the Amendments.. Some of these are already before Congress. Others are drafts by individuals or groups, conveying what they consider to be items that they feel should be included in any formal amendment.
Nothing Is Perfect. Unfortunately, virtually all of these proposals have major problems. Several of them limit their amendments to the issue of corporate personhood and/or specifying that money is not speech, and nothing else.. Others fail to address these issues at all. Only a few of them go beyond these concepts to address getting special interest money out of politics altogether, and not just out of our elections.
Some are vague or confusing in their terminology. Almost all of them rely on Congress to implement the legislation for campaign finance reform, in spite of the fact that it is the very members of Congress that are heavily complicit in this abuse of power in our government.
Piecemeal Approach Likely to Fail. My personal feeling is that most of these proposals reflect at best a piecemeal approach and only a first step toward cleaning up the mess we have in Washington. Almost everything of any true significance that we need to do will require at least one Constitutional amendment. However, we cannot go to the people piecemeal with these important items. We need to put together a total reform package in only one or two amendments, while, at the same time, keeping them simple and straightforward, so that average citizens can read and understand them, and who will back their passage by their federal and state legislators.
Each title below is also a link to the text of that proposed amendment. I don't expect you to read every one. However, if you should choose to read only one, I suggest that it be Wolf PAC Amendments (#28 and #29). Taken together, they appear to me to be the most comprehensive package, and they are very clear and easy to comprehend. Here are brief descriptions of thirteen proposed efforts to cure the ills of our present system.

OCCUPIED Amendment

Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch from Florida introduced this amendment in the House. It is a companion bill to the Saving American Democracy Amendment in the Senate. It only partly addresses the Citizen's United ruling by stating essentially that only non-profit corporations established for business purposes are not people. It fails to address the issue of money as speech, government financing of federal elections, or other reforms.

Saving American Democracy Amendment

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont introduced an amendment in the Senate that is a companion bill to and essentially the same as the OCCUPIED Amendment in the House.

Get Money Out Amendment

This amendment was proposed by the Get Money Out organization, which was started by MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan. Get Money Out merged with the United Republic group in late 2011. Its content is somewhat similar to the OCCUPIED and Saving American Democracy amendments above. However, it is the only amendment that calls for election day to be a federal holiday.

Lessig Amendment

This amendment was proposed by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, who also founded the Rootstrikers organization. That group merged with the United Republic organization in late 2011. It provides for government funding of federal elections, a limit of $100 for “non-anonymized" contributions, but does not address any limits for “ anonymized” contributions. It would place limits on independent political expenditures within 90 days of an election, It indirectly addresses corporate personhood by specifying that non-natural persons do not have inalienable rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution. It does not address the “money is speech” issue.

Wolf PAC Amendments (#28 and #29)

These amendments were proposed by Wolf PAC, a group started by progressive TV and radio host Cenk Uygur. Because I think this is the best of the amendments submitted to date, I am including their entire text below. The sites also have descriptive explanations of each section at their respective sites, if you want more information.
Section 1. For all constitutional and legal purposes, entities created by operation of law are not persons, and do not have the rights of people.
Section 2. No entity not a person, and no people other than citizens, shall contribute to any political purpose. All contributions to political purpose shall be made public, with the name of the contributor and amount and nature of the contribution, and the name of the recipient.
Section 3. The Congress shall have power to enforce the provisions of this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 1. Only U.S. citizens shall be allowed to contribute to a candidate for public office, or to contribute money to an organization engaged in influencing the outcome of an election or legislation, or to contribute money on behalf of or opposed to any type of said candidates and elected officials, organization, or legislation.
Section 2. No candidate for any elected office shall be permitted to receive more than sixteen times the federal hourly minimum wage, in contributions of any form, excluding volunteer hours, for any purpose, from any singular citizen of the United States of America during the same election cycle; all contributions must be fully disclosed in amount and source.
Section 3. No appointee or nominee to, or holder of, any office of any government body shall accept gifts or compensation to their personal accounts save their duly awarded salary from said government body; they may receive campaign contributions in a separate campaign account subject to disclosure.
Section 4. All campaign expenditures shall be comprised entirely of campaign contributions. Candidates as private citizens may contribute to their campaigns within the limits and restrictions of this amendment and shall be permitted use of personal forms of transportation.
Section 5: All campaign contributions, to candidates or to organizations engaged in influencing the outcome of an election, must be raised from the constituents of the elected office in question.
Section 6. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Udall Amendment

Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, along with eight other Democratic Senators (Messrs. Bennet, Harkin, Durbin, Schumer, Merkley, Whitehouse, Begich, and Mrs. Shaheen) introduced this amendment. It is so full of holes that it is virtually a worthless sham. It doesn't address the issue of corporate personhood or the use of money as speech. It adds essentially nothing toward getting money out of politics, except for what Congress might legislate, and we all know how effective they have been in the past and will continue to be in the future..

The People's Right's Amendment

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced the amendment with the support of Free Speech for People, a non-profit group that aims to end corporate personhood. This amendment would reverse the Citizen's United decision by the Supreme Court, but nothing else.

Simmons Amendment

Hip-hop artist Simmons announced his support for an amendment that would establish public funding of federal political campaigns and would prohibit any political contributions from any source. It gives Congress the authority to design and enforce the public funding system. However, it does not address the issue of corporate personhood issue or concept that money is speech. It does, however, specifically preclude candidates from using their own money for their campaigns.

Edwards Amendment

Introduced by Representative Donna Edwards (D-Md.), this feeble and useless proposal has very little merit. It does not directly address corporate personhood or the concept of money as speech. It refers to 'contributions,' but doesn't define them (financial, in kind, volunteerism, etc.). Here is the entire content of her vague amendment:
Section 1. Nothing in this Constitution shall prohibit Congress and the States from imposing content-neutral regulations and restrictions on the expenditure of funds for political activity by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity, including but not limited to contributions in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office.t:
Section 2.  Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

Schrader Amendment

Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader from Oregon introduced this amendment. It doesn't directly address the corporate personhood issue and is silent on the issue of money as speech. It also does not provide for publicly financed campaigns. Other than those issues, I think this is one of the better amendments.

Kaptur Amendment

Introduced by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), this is another feeble and useless proposal that has very little merit. Here is the entire content of her amendment:
Section 1. Congress shall have power to set limits on the amount of contributions that may be accepted by, and the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for nomination for election to, or for election to, Federal office.
Section 2. A State shall have power to set limits on the amount of contributions that may be accepted by, and the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for nomination for election to, or for election to, State or local office.
Section 2.Congress shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation..
No reference to corporate personhood. No reference to money as free speech. No mention of public campaign financing. Lots of other things missing. She does specifically address both primary and general elections, something one of the others do.
A progressive group known as Move to Amend has proposed an amendment that would overturn Citizen's United by affirming that corporations are not people, specifically stating that money is not free speech, approving legislative controls over campaign spending, and prohibiting candidate's from using their own money as campaign resources. It does not, however, address public financing of federal campaigns. Otherwise, it is pretty good.

Renew Democracy Amendment

A grassroots organization known as Renew Democracy has proposed amendment that is totally unstructured and very confusing. It does not directly address the corporate personhood issue or the “money is speech” issue. It does not recommend public financing of campaigns as a means of getting money out of politics. It uses some vague and undefined phrases, as you will see in the text below, which is the entire text of the amendment.
The Renew Democracy Amendment
The right of the individual qualified citizen voter to participate in and directly elect all candidates by popular vote in all pertinent local, state, and federal elections shall not be questioned and the right to vote is limited to individuals. The right to contribute to political campaigns and political parties is held solely by individual citizens. Political campaign and political party contributions shall not exceed an amount reasonably affordable by the average American. The rights of all groups, associations and organizations to other political speech may be regulated by Congress but only as to volume and not content and only to protect the right of the individual voter’s voice to be heard.
Summary. There you have it – the collective effort of thirteen groups, all seemingly focused on improving our corrupt political system. Some are better focused than others, and some seem to be blind to the true nature of the problems that beset us and how to solve them. I think that somewhere among them are the seeds of political, and not just electoral, reform.
Conclusion. It will be a difficult job to get such an amendment through Congress, but it must be done. It will be difficult to get 38 of our 50 states to ratify such an amendment, but it must be done. The survival of our democracy is at stake. For the sake of our children and all who come after them, it must be done.

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