Recent Opinions and Editorials

International Business Times
09/17/19 AT 12:10 AM

“Constitution Day: The 28th Amendment Will Move Us Closer To The American Promise”

by Jeff Clements and  Cheryl Crawford

Today, on the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, our nation is in crisis. The representative democracy promised in the Constitution is under threat. Last week a report delivered to Congress said 1,688 polling places have closed since 2013 in jurisdictions that, until a Supreme Court decision that year, were subject to federal elections oversight because of histories of voting discrimination.

Earlier this year a divided Supreme Court ruled that shaping political districts for partisan benefit is a political question the courts have no role in ending. Now the partisan majorities won via the billions of dollars pouring into our elections can then rewrite districting lines to ensure this purchased partisan control retains its power.

The 2020 elections are predicted to cost more than $10 billion, once again shattering past spending records. Most of this money will come from a tiny portion of Americans, global corporations, some big unions, and other undisclosed sources.

This happened because the Supreme Court, not the people, made up a new constitutional theory that money is just free speech and even the most global corporations have the same rights as Americans to “speak” with corporate money. A series of disastrous decisions reversed more than a century of law on how money is used in elections, including the Court’s ruling in 2010 that corporations and unions have a free-speech right to use unlimited funds to influence the outcome of elections.

The results of this reckless First Amendment distortion now are clear: Billions of dollars from the most partisan and self-interested elites drown out the voices of Americans, deprive voters of diverse views and candidates to choose from, block any compromise and action on overdue and urgent needs, and increase alienation and cynicism. A study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Americans, by a 2-1 ratio, now believe our “vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.”

This is far from the first time our nation has faced a crisis of democracy. The Constitution’s framers completed their work in Philadelphia 232 years ago, but that was the beginning, not the end, of creating the architecture of our American republic. Nearly half of today’s Constitution was not written in 1787 but was built by the people, all Americans, who have won 27 constitutional amendments, including a dozen in the 20th century.

Throughout our nation’s history, amendments—often driven by those whose rights were being denied—moved America closer to realizing the promise of our Revolution and our Constitution. Today, Americans are doing it again.

On this Constitution Day, dozens of legal scholars have called for a constitutional amendment to end the Supreme Court’s reckless experiment in forcing unlimited money into American elections, silencing the voices and concerns of most citizens and voters in the states. These include Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe and Laura Weinrib; Walter “Bud” Carpeneti, former Chief Justice for the Alaska Supreme Court; Adam Winkler, professor at UCLA School of Law; Caroline Frederickson, President Emerita of the American Constitution Society; and former Senator John McCain’s counsel Trevor Potter, and many more.

But lawyers and judges won’t get us out of the deep mess our nation is in now. Instead, we need the same people who used the constitutional amendment process to win the Bill of Rights, end slavery, mandate equal protection of the laws and voting rights regardless of race, and overturned disastrous Supreme Court decisons to win women and Americans over 18 years old the right to vote, among other milestones of our national experience.

Who were these superheroes? Everyday American citizens just like all of us today. They put aside partisan games, selfish interests and the understandable wish to avoid political engagement to rise to the challenge of building the national consensus and action needed for constitutional amendments.

Now, when the power of the few dominates the rights of the many, Americans are coming together once again to renew the Constitution through the amendment process. And a movement to make the amendment work after it is ratified already is building. After all, amendments make equal rights but those must be enforced: A century of civil rights struggle has been necessary and still is necessary to vindicate the 14th and 15th Amendments’ guarantee of political equality regardless of race.

Constitution Day celebrates the extraordinary promise of an American republic based on equal rights, human liberty and effective self-government. But no one can deliver on that promise but us, ordinary American citizens. A nation of ideals such as ours will rise or fall depending on whether ordinary people bring extraordinary courage and persistence to our political life.

American Promise is committed to an audacious goal: to bring Americans together to ratify a constitutional amendment, an amendment that will secure the equal rights of every American to free speech and real representation, and end the domination of unlimited, concentrated money that prevents solutions to every big problem in our nation.

Today, it is good to remember that all of us are called to defend and secure the Constitution and rights we rightly celebrate today.

Jeff Clements is the Founder and President of American Promise; Cheryl Crawford is the Executive Director of MassVote.

 

The Fulcrum 
September 11, 2019

“Three reasons Republicans should support the 28th Amendment”

by John Wass

While it has garnered widespread support among Americans across the political spectrum for years, the movement for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to end the domination of big money in our political system now is gaining significant traction in Washington. Thus far 11 current and former 2020 presidential candidates have signed the American Promise Pledge to support a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, and measures proposing such an amendment have 180 co-sponsors between the House and Senate.

However, only one of those 180 co-sponsors is a Republican: Rep. John Katko from New York’s 24th District. The currently lopsided support for this effort highlights how destructive partisan politics can block individuals from acting on their private convictions.

The idea of limiting big money in politics is actually a bedrock conservative principle, supported by a significant majority of conservative voters. “Draining the swamp” was among the driving forces that led to President Trump’s election. “Cronyism” has been a concern of conservative voters for decades, and Milton Friedman himself sounded the alarm over a system where businesses compete by seeking government favors. And many former Republican elected officials publicly support a 28th Amendment.

We can only imagine many sitting Republicans in Congress agree, but are hesitant to make that support public in the current contentious environment. Here are three reasons why Republican elected officials should set the record straight and reclaim leadership of the principles they have been committed to for so long.

1. Perceived corruption is undermining free-market capitalism

In a recent op-ed for The Hill, Republican former state Sen. Jim Rubens of New Hampshire writes about the reasons the dominance of big money in politics leads to less freedom in the free market: “Business competes by buying influence or submitting to extortion in Washington, rather than by offering better products and services to consumers. Free markets are becoming crony capitalism.”

Surveys show growing numbers are losing faith in free market capitalism and representative democracy. In 2015, the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan, business-led public policy organization, released the report“Crony Capitalism,” which concluded: “The remarkable success of capitalism in the United States has been made possible by widespread public support for that system. Sadly, in recent years, and especially since the September 2008 financial crisis, that support has seriously eroded. Increasingly the public is coming to view the system as unfairly benefitting the few and as favoring Wall Street over Main Street.”

This is true especially among younger Americans and non-white Americans, both of whom will soon be majority voting blocks. Today 61 percent of Americans age 18-24 have a positive view of socialism, according to a recent Harris Poll.

Left unchecked, the report says, crony capitalism will continue to undermine public support for the American model of capitalism — and sap vitality from the economy. “This adds urgency to the task of finding solutions to the rise of crony capitalism.”

2. Political money is undermining economic dynamism and innovation

The United States has seen a long-term decline in business startups and a growth in the economic power of entrenched companies according to The Hamilton Project’s team. According to a report from the Economic Innovation Group, which tracks America’s economic vibrancy, “The entrepreneurial and restless energy that once defined the United States seems to be evaporating as the economy grows more static, top-heavy, and concentrated. The decline of dynamism has been steep, rapid, and pervasive across all states.”

The influx of money into our political system resulting from shifts in the law and Supreme Court decisions has led to skyrocketing election spending, and with it an escalating dependence on fundraising in Washington. This means the biggest players in the economy can increasingly shape the rules to their own benefit — leading to a top-heavy system designed to benefit entrenched players at the expense of competitors. The CED report describes “three interconnected trends responsible for distorting our economic system: a rise in the size and scope of government, campaign costs and lobbying.”

3. The big money system is tipping to favor Democrats

Despite the critical importance of the previous two points, a cynic may argue that being better at playing the big money system gives Republicans the electoral edge. But that argument falters as Democrats begin to overtake Republicans in the big money spending race.

In 2018, liberal dark money groups outspent conservatives, and out-of-state liberal dark money groups have swayed recent state political contests, including Alabama’s special Senate election. The pay-to-play political system is a costly arms race without a positive end for anyone but powerful special interests, who are successfully gaining outsize influence while undermining capitalism and democracy.

As recently affirmed by the Business Roundtable, our country has achieved two centuries of economic and political dominance based in large part on its belief in two revolutionary systems: the free-market economy and representative democracy. These systems have paved the way for our nation to improve the lives of its millions of citizens.

Today, faith in these systems has been shattered by the Supreme Court-sanctioned domination of wealth and concentrated power over our political system. Now is the time for political leaders of every ideological persuasion to align with the people and address the greatest danger threatening the very heart of our great nation: a pay-to-play political system that is rapidly transforming our republic into an oligarchy.

John Wass is board chairman of American Promise, which seeks to limit the power of corporate, union, political party and super PAC money in politics.

 

Conway Daily Sun
September 6, 2019

“Jim Rubens: 28th Amendment”

by Jim Rubens

Two weeks ago, the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), with 46 co-sponsors, including seven presidential candidates. In January, the same bill — to impose reasonable limits on campaign money while protecting free speech rights — was sponsored by 133 House members. Unfortunately, only one of these 180 total members is a Republican, brave and lonely New York Rep. John Katko.

This lack of support leaves congressional Republicans wildly and egregiously out of step with Republican voters, 66 percent of whom support an amendment to address big-money political corruption. This intense anti-corruption sentiment powered Donald Trump’s popular “drain the swamp” message used in the lead-up to his 2016 election.

Tackling corruption is a slow-burn national emergency. Public confidence in two of our nation’s central organizing institutions — free-market capitalism and representative democracy — is approaching failed-state status.

Today, 61 percent of Americans aged 18-24 have a positive reaction to socialism in a recent Harris Poll. By 54 to 40 percent, non-whites (projected to be the majority of voters in a generation) now prefer government rather than free-market control over the economy.

Our form of government, the American constitutional republic, is and was a bold and visionary advance in liberty. Today, only 17 percent of voters trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time. A majority now believes that government corruption — legalized bribery and extortion — is our nation’s biggest crisis, with 87 percent viewing political corruption as “widespread.”

These twin collapses in confidence are joined at the hip. Big government occupies and controls a larger share of the economy and increasingly picks economic winners and losers via tax subsidies, regulatory carve-outs, spending programs and contract awards. Business competes by buying influence or submitting to extortion in Washington, rather than by offering better products and services to consumers. Free markets are becoming crony capitalism. The public accurately views this pay-to-play system as rigged against most of us.

The Conference Board, one of our nation’s leading champions of the enduring virtues of free-market capitalism, singles out today’s big-money, special-interest dominated campaign finance system as suppressing product innovation and market competition and eroding public support for capitalism.

Late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the unanimous Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan decision, recognized the gravity of the corruption problem and the need for a constitutional solution. As both the House and Senate did by rule a dusty 200-plus years ago, Congress could require all members to recuse themselves, like judges, from voting on any measure where they have a conflict of interest. Such conflicts include campaign contributions, independent election expenditures and personal, business or family-member financial or career interests.In finding mandatory recusal constitutional, Justice Scalia wrote, “the legislative power thus committed is not personal to the legislator but belongs to the people.”

In theory, I love this solution. But it will not happen because today’s complex economy and costly campaigns would place most members of Congress in constant recusal handcuffs.

Fortunately, there is a thoroughly workable solution, one that lays a foundation of defense of free-market capitalism and restoration of public trust in government: a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition to this critical foundation, we Republicans have two more solid reasons to back a 28th Amendment.

Big-money players such as billionaires Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, unions, Super PACs, dark-money 501(c)(4)s and laundered foreign money sources now routinely target swing districts and Senate seats. These players recruit and screen candidates and flood districts with out-of-state money, determining which candidates are financially viable and get media attention. In New Hampshire, with only 1 million voters, $132 million was spent on the 2016 U.S. Senate election, decided for the Democrat by 1,700 votes. Ninety-five percent of those dollars flowed from out of state.

Swing races have become increasingly nationalized. Preferences of local voters and the specific needs of your state or district are distinctly secondary. Candidate choice, debate and policy innovation are all suppressed. First Amendment rights are monopolized by a tiny number of big money players from New York, San Francisco — and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Republicans have been operating under the cynical misconception that we are better at the big-money game than Democrats. Reality is that Democrats have recently gotten better than Republicans at the out-of-state, big-money game. For the 2018 cycle nationally, liberal dark money groups outspent conservatives 54-to-31.

Republicans and Democrats will not usually agree on how to address our nation’s challenges. But we must agree on action to restore public trust in our central economic and governing institutions. Whether you are a more principled or more pragmatic Republican, you have solid reasons to ask your Republican member of Congress to co-sponsor the 28th Amendment.

Jim Rubens was a Republican state senator from New Hampshire and candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2016. He is New England chair for Take Back Our Republic and board member for American Promise.

 

Time 
August 14, 2019

“The Super-Wealthy Have Outsize Influence in Politics. Here’s How We Can Change That”

by Senator Tom Udall

In 2018, the 10 largest individual donors funneled more than $436 million to Super PACs in the most expensive midterm elections ever. Big money in politics has overwhelmed the political process, granting wealthy special interests more power now than at any time in recent American history. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC and other court decisions left Congress and the states constitutionally prohibited from putting limits on raising and spending money in elections, unleashing a flood of corporate dollars in U.S. elections and opening the door for the super-rich to fuel their own interests in our government at the expense of ordinary Americans. While this trend has been decades in the making, these decisions further dismantled our campaign finance laws.

This summer, I joined with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and other Senate Democrats to introduce the Democracy for All Amendment, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and other disastrous court decisions. The amendment would give Congress and the states the power “to regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections” as well to draw a distinction “between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law.”

When corporations and the super-rich have the ability to spend a limitless amount of money, they can not only influence elections but also set the political agenda. Take the Koch brothers as an example. Unlimited campaign contributions have allowed them to use millions of dollars to pervasively, perniciously and secretly influence the public policy. For instance, President Trump has staffed the White House and federal agencies with key officials tied to the Kochs who have systematically worked to discredit renewable energy, promote fossil fuels and deny climate science.

As a result of this type of spending, the American people are losing faith in our political system. Nearly eight in 10 voters said in a September 2018 poll that “reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington” was either the “single most” or a “very important” factor in casting their midterm vote. And Americans overwhelmingly support limits on campaign spending.

The first step in fixing our broken campaign finance system is to sustainably address the root of the problem created by the Supreme Court. While it’s true that constitutional amendments are warranted in only the rarest of circumstances, this is undoubtedly one of those moments in our country’s history. Unlimited spending concentrated in the hands of a few continues to spiral out of control, distorting the voices of everyday citizens and putting the foundation of our democracy at risk.

Too many Americans have every reason to believe that their government no longer answers to them. And because the Supreme Court has now reinforced the misguided idea that spending money to elect politicians is the same thing as free speech, our broken campaign finance system lets billionaires and corporations have outsize influence in our elections. If we want to make progress on the very real problems Americans face, we have to create a democracy that is fair and open to all.

I urge Americans everywhere to contact your state and federal representatives and demand they support the Democracy for All Amendment. We need two-thirds support of all state legislatures as well as the Senate and the House in order to enact this monumental amendment to our Constitution. This amendment would take power back from wealthy special interests and put it back where it belongs: In the hands of “we, the people.

Tom Udall is a U.S. senator from New Mexico.

 

The Hill
August 8, 2019

“Republicans should get behind the 28th Amendment”

by Jim Rubens

Last week the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), with 46 co-sponsors, including seven presidential candidates. In January, the same bill—to impose reasonable limits on campaign money while protecting free speech rights—was sponsored by 133 House members. Unfortunately, only one of these 180 total members is a Republican, brave and lonely New York Rep. John Katko.

This lack of support leaves Congressional Republicans wildly and egregiously out of step with Republican voters, 66 percent of whom support an amendment to address big-money political corruption. This intense anti-corruption sentiment powered Donald Trump’s popular “drain the swamp” message used in the leadup to his 2016 election.

Tackling corruption is a slow-burn national emergency. Public confidence in two of our nation’s central organizing institutions—free-market capitalism and representative democracy—is approaching failed-state status.

Our Founders unleashed free-market capitalism, creating greater wealth, progress and well-being here and abroad than in all of prior human history. Today, 61 percent of Americans aged 18-24 have a positive reaction to socialism in a recent Harris Poll. By 54 to 40 percent, non-whites (projected to be the majority of voters in a generation) now prefer government rather than free-market control over the economy.

Our form of government, the American constitutional republic, is and was a bold and visionary advance in liberty. Today, only 17 percent of voters trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time. A majority now believes that government corruption—legalized bribery and extortion—is our nation’s biggest crisis, with 87 percent viewing political corruption as “widespread.”

These twin collapses in confidence are joined at the hip. Big government occupies and controls a larger share of the economy and increasingly picks economic winners and losers via tax subsidies, regulatory carve-outs, spending programs and contract awards. Business competes by buying influence or submitting to extortion in Washington, rather than by offering better products and services to consumers. Free markets are becoming crony capitalism. The public accurately views this pay-to-play system as rigged against most of us.

The Conference Board, one of our nation’s leading champions of the enduring virtues of free-market capitalism, singles out today’s big-money, special-interest dominated campaign finance system as suppressing product innovation and market competition and eroding public support for capitalism. This crony capitalism is a direct threat to free-market capitalism and a dynamic, globally competitive American economy.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the unanimous Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan decision, recognized the gravity of the corruption problem and the need for a constitutional solution. As both the House and Senate did by rule a dusty 200-plus years ago, Congress could require all members to recuse themselves, like judges, from voting on any measure where they have a conflict of interest. Such conflicts include campaign contributions, independent election expenditures and personal, business or family-member financial or career interests perceivably affected by the vote. In finding mandatory recusal constitutional, Justice Scalia wrote, “[t]he legislative power thus committed is not personal to the legislator but belongs to the people.”

In theory, I love this solution. But it will not happen because today’s complex economy and costly campaigns would place most members of Congress in constant recusal handcuffs.

Fortunately, there is a thoroughly workable solution, one which lays a foundation of defense of free-market capitalism and restoration of public trust in government: a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition to this critical foundation, we Republicans have two more solid reasons to back a 28th Amendment.

Big-money players such as billionaires Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, unions, SuperPACs, dark-money 501.c4s and laundered foreign money sources now routinely target swing districts and Senate seats. These players recruit and screen candidates and flood districts with out-of-state money, determining which candidates are financially viable and get media attention. In my home state of New Hampshire, with only 1 million voters, $132 million was spent on the 2016 U.S. Senate election, decided for the Democrat by 1,700 votes. Ninety-five percent of those dollars flowed from out of state.

Swing races have become increasingly nationalized. Preferences of local voters and the specific needs of your state or district are distinctly secondary. Candidate choice, debate and policy innovation are all suppressed. Big money is killing democracy’s laboratories, constitutional federalism and the 10th Amendment. First Amendment rights are monopolized by a tiny number of big money players from New York, San Francisco—and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Republicans have been operating under the cynical misconception that we are better at the big-money game than Democrats. Reality is that Democrats have recently gotten better than Republicans at the out-of-state, big-money game. For the 2018 cycle nationally, liberal dark money groups outspent conservatives 54/31. In Alabama’s 2017 special Senate election Democrat Doug Jones won by 1.7 percent. LinkedIn co-founder and billionaire California Democrat Reid Hoffman funded the dark-money operation which likely tipped this election outcome.

Republicans and Democrats will not usually agree on how to address our nation’s challenges. But we must agree on action to restore public trust in our central economic and governing institutions. Whether you are a more principled or more pragmatic Republican, you have solid reasons to ask your Republican member of Congress to co-sponsor the 28th Amendment, S.J.Res.51 or H.J.Res.2

Jim Rubens was a Republican state senator from New Hampshire and candidate for U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2016.