Progress Report: Amend The Constitution
(CC) Photo: Light Brigading
16 States, 500 Cities Vote to Roll Back ‘Citizens United’
Sixteen states from coast to coast 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. They have acted either through popular referendum, legislative resolutions or collective letters from elected state leaders to Congress.
Roughly 500 municipalities, from Liberty, Maine, to Los Angeles, California have also demanded constitutional action to reinstitute clear controls on campaign spending. The Los Angeles referendum, passed by a 77% majority in May 2013, was fairly typical. It instructed elected representatives to seek an amendment stating that “there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings.”
You can check our progress report to find out where your state stands or whether actions have been taken by major cities in your state. The states that have acted include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.
The Push for Reform Came Fast
Just three months after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United that authorized unlimited spending by corporations and unions from their general treasuries, Hawaii took action in April 2010.
The Hawaiian legislature 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.
Two years later, 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.
The movement has spread to other states, though some 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 signed a similar letter along with a sizable minority of state representatives.
Groundswell from the Grass Roots
But the most striking show of popular discontent with Supreme Court rulings and the most visible popular groundswell for campaign reform came in Colorado and Montana in the November 2012 elections.
In both states, overwhelming majorities of voters backed ballot initiatives calling for a constitutional amendment to empower Congress and the states to reinstate campaign finance controls. In Colorado, where nearly 86,000 signatures were required to put the initiative on the ballot., the proposal garnered yes votes from more than 1,650,000 voters, or roughly 73 percent of those who cast ballots.
As the popular voting in Colorado and Montana indicates, the drive to control the rising tide of Mega Money in elections draws support from all 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.
Huge Gap between Voters and Elected Officials
But the picture differs sharply among elected officials, where a partisan divide has emerged. In various states, dozens of Republican legislators have voted for reforms to curb runaway campaign spending. But generally, Republicans in state governments as well as in Congress, have resisted proposals for constitutional and legislative reforms. Far more Democrats have gone on record for reform than Republicans.
In Congress, one of the most outspoken advocates of reform is North Carolina Tea Party Republican Walter Jones. “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 become a hot issue among grass roots voters. New Hampshire still uses town meetings for political action, and in the spring of 2014, voters in 53 towns circulated petitions and passed local ballot initiatives calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision and to limit campaign spending.
On May 15, hard on the heels of those town votes, a solid majority of the New Hampshire House of Representatives – 29 Republicans joining 154 Democrats – voted for a constitutional amendment resolution. But ten days later, the Republican majority in the state senate voted 12-11 to block the proposal by referring it to a study committee.
Again in 2015, campaign reform was back on the agenda, this time with both houses in the New Hampshire legislature controlled by Republican majorities. Reform advocates won lopsided bipartisan approval in the state senate for a bill “recognizing the need” for a U.S. constitutional amendment and setting up a legislative committee to study various proposals before Congress. But, New Hampshire sidestepped a clear-cut call for amending the U.S. Constitution, setting up that question as a hot campaign issue in the Granite State’s 2016 presidential primary.
Grass Roots Petition Drives Crop Up Elsewhere
Any effort to amend the U.S. Constitution entails a long and hard campaign and demands a persistent and sustained campaign over many years. But as polls indicate, so many Americans are angry about the skyrocketing and unrestrained spending in American campaigns that the issue does not fade away.
Average Americans declared that they don’t want to see American democracy on the auction block, sold to the highest bidder. That powerful rejection of the status quo leads to voter pressures on city councils, county commissions and state legislatures to go on record for a constitutional amendment, as well as to spontaneous movements calling for a popular vote.
The 2014 election year, for example, saw a grass roots petition drive in Washington State to follow the path of Colorado and Montana and to put the question of a constitutional amendment to authorize curbs on campaign spending on the November ballot in a popular referendum.
The Washington movement was an authentic citizen action, mounted by political amateurs not by paid campaign workers and wealthy funders. As such, it achieved far more that veteran politician strategists expected. It collected 171,000 signatures, but that was not enough to meet the state’s required minimum. So the issue was left off the 2014 ballot.
Check Your State in Our 50-state Rundown:
- No State action on issue.
- 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 taken.
- 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 taken.
- Nov. 6, 2014 – Referendum on Campaign Finance and Lobbying Act of 2014 goes before Arkansas voters, placed on ballot by governor and state legislature. Proposed law calls for ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates for legislature, for Governor and other high state offices. It also bars former legislators from becoming a lobbyist for two years after leaving office and imposes limits on financial gifts from lobbyists to elected state officials.
- June 23, 2014 – California State Senate, on a party-line vote of 23-11, passed a legislative resolution asking Congress to call a constitutional convention that would draft an amendment allowing limits on corporate campaign financing.
- California’s Assembly, or lower house, had previously approved the measure, meaning that the Senate vote clear the resolution for submission to Congress. The governor’s approval was not needed. California thus became the second state after Vermont to formally call for a constitutional convention.
- California’s proposal would declare, among other things, that money is not speech and that corporations do not have the same scope of political rights as human beings. “I doubt our founding fathers had the free-speech rights of multinational and foreign corporations in mind when they drafted the First Amendment,” said Assemblyman Gary Gatto D-Los Angeles, author of the resolution.
- Nov. 6, 2012 – Colorado voters pass ballot referendum, called state Amendment 65, by a 73.8% popular majority instructing Colorado’s Congressional delegation to support and promote “an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allows congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending that allow all citizens, regardless of wealth, to express their views to one another on a level playing field.”
- Sept. 12, 2012 – 88 Democratic state representatives and 22 Democratic state senators sign a letter addressed to five of Connecticut representatives in Congress. The letter states that it is “written in support of the Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United vs. FEC and restore elections to the people.”
- Jan. 2013 – A state senator and state representative introduce bills calling for increased transparency of corporate political spending and a congress to initiate action on constitutional amendment limiting the first amendment’s personhood to individuals. Both bills are referred to committee and no further action is taken.
- June 10, 2013 – 3 Republican and 32 Democratic state representatives and senators, sign a letter calling on the state’s congressional delegation to pass a constitutional amendment revering the Citizens United ruling.
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.” The resolution also calls upon Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.
- 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.
- 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.
- April 28, 2010 – Hawaii’s state House and Senate pass a resolution requesting that “the U.S. Congress propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to clarify the distinction between the rights of natural persona dn the rights of corporations,”
- March 19, 2014, a bill introduced by Hawaii’s House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Karl Rhoades dies in Hawaii’s Senate Judiciary Committee.
- 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 taken.
- 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, asserting “that 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.”
- No state action on issue.
- Feb. 24, 2012 – Bill is introduced in Iowa legislature calling on Congress to pass legislation regulating corporate campaign spending. It prevails in Iowa Senate by voice vote on March 12, 2012.
- 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.
- 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.
- No state action on this issue.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 by12-11 vote referring the question to a study committee.
- Fall 2014 – The pro-amendment coalition organizes to make support for a constitutional amendment a key issue in state legislative races, especially for the senate, in hopes of winning a senate majority in favor of a constitutional amendment in the 2015 state legislature.
- Oct. 2012 – New Jersey’s State Assembly Senate and House pass identical resolutions expressing opposition to the Citizens United ruling and calling for the U.S. Constitution to propose a constitutional amendment limiting First Amendment protection of free speech to natural persons.
- Jan. and Feb. 2010 – One year after house defeats a similar bill failed, both chambers of New Mexico legislature pass companion bills expressing opposition to the Citizens United ruling and calling on Congress to pass a constitution amendment to “restore republican democracy to the people of the United States.”
- March 27, 2012 – a memorialization urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturningCitizens 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.
- 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.
- No state action on the issue.
- Dec. 10, 2012 -Akron City Council passes resolution calling for a constitutional amendment overturningCitizens 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.
- No state action on the issue.
- July 1, 2013 – Oregon’s state Senate passes a Joint Memorial, previously adopted by the state’s House on June 21, urging the U.S. Congress to propose a Constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations and other legal entities,” and restoring the right of the Congress and state legislatures to regulate money “raised and spent for political purposes.”
- 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.
- 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.
- No state action on the issue.
- 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.
- No state action on the issue.
- 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.
- No state action on the issue.
- 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.”
- 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.
- March 7, 2013 – Washington State House of Representatives passed a resolution to reverse Citizens United decision (HJM 4001). Similar measure introduced in state senate by ten co-sponsors in June, 2013, but not acted upon by Senate.
- Feb. 2014 – WAmend, a grass roots coalition, charging that “unlimited and anonymous money has corrupted our political system,” launched a drive to collect enough voter signatures to put a citizens’ initiative on a constitutional amendment to curb campaign spending on the state’s November 2014 election ballot.
- By June 30, 2014 deadline, volunteer-run WAmend campaign collected 171,667 signatures for Proposition I-1329, falling short of the required minimum of 246,272 signatures to achieve ballot status for their initiative.
- Coalition leaders immediately announced plans to make support of Prop I-1329 a litmus test in the state’s legislative elections in November 2014. They vowed another push for the amendment in the Washington State legislature in 2015 or in another petition drive for the 2015 election.
- 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.
- April 1, 2014 – Thirteen Wisconsin cities pass referendums by margins of between 22% and 74% calling for a constitutional amendment limiting personhood to natural persons and eliminating the first amendment protection of monetary expenditures.
- No state action on the issue.