By Matt Highland, Adjunct Staff Writer, Cal State University Long Beach Graduate Student
I routinely receive surveys from various activist and party organizations asking me to prioritize and rank the most pressing issues facing the country.
Since 2010, I have always answered with the exact same response: “Overturn Citizens United!”
No matter what issues are particularly important to you, progress on them face the same common road block, the influence of big money.
While Democrats have found a possibly effective line of attack for the next round of elections by focusing on the influence of the Koch brothers, Republican voters are quick to point to the liberal billionaire George Soros. Mother Jones puts 2012 election spending by Soros at $2.6 million, while the Koch brothers and their group Americans for Prosperity spent $38.9 million, making this a poor rebuttal. Still, this should not be a partisan issue. Polls show an overwhelming bipartisan majority support for reducing the influence of money in our elections.
Recent scandals in the state legislature, such as the indictment of Democrat Leland Yee for exchanging political favors for campaign donations or the indictment involving a San Diego police detective and Washington D.C. lobbyist conspiring to funnel a Mexican national’s money into local elections to Republican and Democratic candidates, show that this is not a partisan issue. Wealthy interests seek to exert influence over policy makers, regardless of their party identification. Money flows to whomever holds power.
In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates of money into the political system. With the recent McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court has further eroded restrictions on spending limits. The decision eliminated contribution limits and has left in place a system that’s ill-equipped to detect and prosecute outright bribery and corruption. There are few safeguards to prevent foreign interests from influencing our elections. Something has to give.
People know there’s a problem, but fear there is no viable solution. With the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, the demand for something to be done is hitting a fevered pitch. There are widespread calls for campaign finance reform and public financing of elections among other approaches.
Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito claim to be constitutional traditionalists, who do not believe it is a “living, breathing document.” They believe justices are not meant to interpret, but to strictly read, the Constitution. How is it that they can find corporations are people and money is speech while claiming to strictly read the Constitution without interpretation?
Corporations are not people; money is not speech; and a Supreme Court ruling is not the last word. The Constitution is. The Supreme Court is tasked with the duty to uphold that Constitution and rule on a given case’s adherence or violation of it. We, the people, can undo this influence of money in our government by passing a constitutional amendment.
Many individuals and organizations are now seeking to do just that. Organizations calling for a constitutional amendment include Common Cause, Democrats.com, Greenpeace, MoveOn.org, Move to Amend, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Root Strikers, and the Sierra Club, among many, many others.
A student-led movement that began at UC Berkeley called Students United For Democracy has launched a campaign on 86 campuses in 31 states. Throughout the week of April 14 through 18, students across the country are passing resolutions in student governments calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. On April 14, students participated in rallies and educational events in support of reforming our elections and amending the Constitution.
The movement is gaining ground. Elected officials are now circulating petitions and mobilizing voters around the issue. Sixteen states have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Thirty-five senators and 114 members of the House of Representatives have gone on record supporting a constitutional amendment. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as local Reps. Janice Hahn and Alan Lowenthal, are among those who support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
Students, elected officials, organizations and everyday citizens are uniting to give voice back to the people. Whatever you do, wherever you go, whatever party you belong to, take a stand for democracy and voice your support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
For more information on how you can get involved visit: www.united4thepeople.org, www. studentsunitedfordemocracy.org. or www.stopmccutcheon