WASHINGTON -- Activists across the country are working this week to mobilize local communities in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and kick money out of politics.
It's all part of a campaign by Public Citizen (and its Democracy Is For People project), Move to Amend, multiple other reform groups and several elected officials. The campaign labeled the week of June 11 as Resolutions Week, during which local organizers are holding events to increase public awareness and put pressure on local, city and state governments to pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment.
"[We wanted to] catalyze the groundswell of local organizing around a constitutional amendment on Citizens United," said Mark Hays, campaign coordinator for Democracy Is For People. "The first thing that came up was that people in their own communities wanted to speak up and speak out in their own communities."
The much-criticized Citizens United decision freed corporations and unions to spend freely on independent political efforts, and a subsequent lower court decision, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, freed individuals to contribute unlimited amounts to independent groups now known as super PACs. Independent electoral spending has exploded since the decision and in some cases, including some states during the Republican presidential primary, exceeded the spending of the actual candidates.
Resolutions Week looks to build on the success that groups like Public Citizen and local activists have already had in urging measures in favor of an amendment.
That effort has produced 219 resolutions at the local level in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Vermont and elsewhere. At the state level, legislatures in Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont have passed resolutions calling for an amendment to get money out of politics. California's state legislature is expected to pass a resolution soon, which would make California the sixth state to officially endorse a constitutional amendment.
Much of this campaign has been driven by local leaders concerned about the exponential rise in the amount of money being spent on elections at all levels.
In Wichita, Kan., dietician Jane Byrnes is a chief organizer for what she calls a "ragtag group of interested citizens" who are holding an event for Resolutions Week on Thursday. Byrnes said her goal is to educate Wichitans and the city council about the issue. "I think people of all ages and occupations and all political persuasions need to be alerted to the fact that our democracy isn't what it was even six months ago," she added.
Byrnes said that her effort, which began two and a half months ago, seeks to make politicians listen to the "people who have hearts and moms and children, instead of corporations whose only marching orders is to get more profits for themselves."
Bar Harbor, Maine, activist Gary Friedmann has worked to pass two amendment resolutions in eastern Maine and is now trying to take that activism statewide.
"We've got maybe 15 or 20 towns," Friedmann explained. "Portland, Bangor and Waterville have joined smaller towns like ours in eastern Maine. We could see another couple towns in the next couple months sign on to this resolution. Then we'd like to take it to the state level and have our legislature sign on to our resolution."
Friedmann, like many other local activists, is worried about the flood of outside money, from super PACs and other groups, that has become the hallmark of the 2012 presidential election.
"We're seeing the impacts of this not only in elections for Congress and the president, but here in Maine we've had super PACs coming in and injecting lopsided funds into state Senate races two years ago, and I'm even concerned that that could impact state House races," Friedmann says. "We want to get this money out of politics."
Ultimately, the goal of all this local activism to build the capacity to take the issue of a constitutional amendment to Congress.
"In the short term, we hope that this creates the networks and infrastructure that we and our partners will need to pursue our long-term effort to pass a constitutional amendment," Public Citizen's Hays said. "At some point, members of Congress are going to need to respond to this groundswell of support for an amendment."