Montanans should resist any temptation toward complacency about being one of only 11 states to have adopted a state-level position favoring a constitutional amendment to counter the judicial excesses of our Supreme Court – and one of only two to have done so by popular referendum. Instead, we should join with others to begin the hard work of reorganizing our body of laws to take maximum advantage of the protections an amendment would offer when (or even before) one is finally adopted.
As “Young Turk” Cenk Uygur recently remarked, no legislative body can long withstand the will of 75 percent of its citizens. The eventual passage of a 28th amendment to counter the Citizens United ruling is very probable. But imagine for a moment that it happened now – today. How different would the political landscape look that we woke up to tomorrow?
The answer is, not very different at all. Rights established or abolished by the Constitution are not instantaneously translated into legislation. All of the laws fashioned during 40 years of takeover by the wealthy elite, would still be in place. Elections will still cost a lot of money and your own representatives would still be required to raise that money from private sources. Most politicians, still in the grip of their serious fundraising addiction, would continue to reflexively do the bidding of their wealthy sugar-daddies. Despite the newly won prerogative of Congress to regulate campaign spending, years of difficult legislative work would lie ahead before the disproportionate political influence enjoyed today by billionaires and corporations would be significantly impacted.
The truth is, that work has already begun – even without an amendment – although progress has been severely hampered by opposition from the thoroughly entrenched beneficiaries of the status quo. Legislative attempts to curb the influence of big money fall on a broad spectrum defined by their comprehensiveness and potential impact. At the low end one can find attempts to facilitate the weakening corporate influence by diverting business from them to collaborative entities, such as cooperatives and public institutions. Beyond these are initiatives to marginally affect the scope of permissible campaign activity, for example, by strengthening reporting requirements for election spending, requiring shareholder buy-in for corporate political contributions, or modifying and better enforcing the regulation of nonprofit organizations to curb current abuses by wealthy campaign donors. At the upper extreme is the very difficult and long-range task of innovating new laws to reinstate comprehensive campaign finance regulation that avoid head-on collisions with the current Supreme Court.
Among the high-end reform proposals currently in play, the ambitious American Anti-Corruption Act has generated the most interest and excitement. It puts limits on just about every way private money currently enters our political system, it stiffens the disclosure requirements for all permitted campaign spending and it employs an ingenious mechanism to provide significant public financing to de-incentivize large-dollar donors in the first place. Its authors believe the proposed law will pass the constitutional scrutiny of the Roberts Court. The act also comes with a bold plan aimed at shortening the time required for enactment. Read about it yourself at www.anticorruptionact.org.
Such considerations have caused us at Missoula Moves to Amend to take a somewhat broader view of our own responsibilities. We have come to realize that all social and political movements sharing the goal of a return to government of, by and for the people benefit from the successes of all the others. In the future, without abandoning our passion for a constitutional amendment and without violating the integrity of our quest for cross-partisan support for reform, we plan to voice our support for all worthy legislative efforts that lead to greater democracy.
In this spirit, we have arranged to host a one-day pro-democracy workshop by the Bozeman-based organization Reclaim Democracy from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23 in Missoula. In the workshop we will examine the political system our country cut its teeth on, investigate how it ended up today so far from its first principles, and consider the many ways at our disposal to revive its ailing spirit and restore its inspiration. The title is “From Here to Democracy,” and we invite you to join us. For details, visit fromheretodemocracy.eventbrite.com/#.
Walter Wilde is a spokesman for Missoula Moves to Amend.