My Missoula City Council campaigns each cost about $4,000. I raised that money in chunks of $160 or less, from friends, family and neighbors. I don’t remember spending a lot of time fundraising. What I remember from campaigning is going to forums, filling out questionnaires, talking about the issues with people on doorsteps and in coffee shops – the kind of people with bellybuttons, not the corporate “people” we make up with paperwork.
Every week of doing my job on City Council, my colleagues and I make a decision that positively or negatively impacts some company’s bottom line at least as much as my campaigns cost. Because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that corporations have a right to spend directly from their treasuries to elect and defeat candidates, it is only a matter of time before some smart bean-counter decides that maximizing her company’s profits means investing in elected officials who will see to it. It might be a sound business decision, but it’s corruption – just what the Supreme Court has opened the door to by striking down the national Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and Montana’s century-old law banning corporate spending on elections, the Corrupt Practices Act.
Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary’s Constitution Subcommittee convenes a hearing on restoring integrity to elections with the sort of constitutional amendment endorsed by 75 percent of Missoula’s voters this past November. We must amend the Constitution to make it clear that rights are the province of human beings, corporate creatures created by law must be subject to law, elections should not be swamped with dirty, secret, selfish spending and that we the people won’t stand for a government that’s merely a machine to maximize the largest corporations’ profits. It’s an ambitious but not unprecedented task, and past amendments mark some of America’s proudest moments: extending and protecting voting rights, ensuring equal protection of the law, popularly electing senators. Redeeming the promise of democracy from the operatives who want elections to be nothing better than auctions is a task commensurate to the importance of achieving it.
Tuesday’s hearing is step along a long path, just as last year’s referendum victory in Missoula was and a vote for this November’s Stand With Montanans (I-166) initiative will be. Take a moment today to tell Montana’s senators, who have endorsed an amendment, and congressman, who has not, that you support a constitutional solution to election corruption. Please call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to get started.
Jason Wiener represents Ward 1 on the Missoula City Council and owns a small business.