By Diane Jones
Get Big Money Out of Elections! Overturn Citizens United! Corporations Are Not People. Money Is Not Speech! You’ve heard the slogans – Now you can help do it.
I-735 is an initiative to the Washington State legislature that, when approved, would have our congressional delegation support and sponsor a resolution to amend the US Constitution. The resolution would clarify that the rights listed in the Constitution are rights of individual human beings only. Federal, state, and local governments would be empowered to regulate political contributions and expenditures to ensure that no person or corporation gains undue influence over our government. It also requires that all political contributions be publicly disclosed.
Sixteen other states have already passed similar measures, including two using the initiative process: Montana and Colorado. In both these states the measure passed with over 75 percent voter approval. We anticipate similar results here—but believe, that as a more populated state, Washington would send a much louder message.
Initiative 735 is aimed at ending the corruption that has been building in our democratic institutions. The US Supreme Court decision on Citizens United brought the issue to a head. That decision swept away a century of efforts to limit corporate money in our elections and endorsed the dangerous idea that corporations have constitutional rights. Corporations already have limited liability, perpetual life, and receive many financial advantages given by the state.
By extending constitutional protections to corporations and other legal entities, not only do they enjoy more rights than people, they in essence gain veto power over democratically enacted laws. When constitutionally protected, corporations have the ability to challenge any law that gets in the way of their profits.
US Supreme Court decisions since the 1970s have overturned laws protecting open and fair elections, citing First Amendment rights. As a result, the way has been cleared for unlimited anonymous giving by individuals to “independent” campaign groups like Super PACs, and unlimited spending on referendums, effectively erasing limits on aggregate contributions to candidates. These decisions invite corruption; and once corruption becomes institutionalized, it is very hard to uproot.
WAmend is collecting signatures with volunteers, reflecting the spirit behind our initiative process. Organized labor and farmers worked hard to add this form of “direct democracy” to the Washington State Constitution in 1912 in order to respond to a state legislature that wasn’t being responsive to the will of the people but, instead, to the will of railroad, bank, and timber corporations.
Rather than raise $500,000 to pay for out of state contract workers to collect signatures, we have chosen instead to raise and spend $250,000 to hire local campaign organizers to help empower citizens to engage in direct democracy.
You can help us get I-735 on next year’s ballot by going to our website, www. WAmend.org, and signing up. Join others in volunteering to collect signatures. And if an organization you belong to is not yet listed as endorsing, consider encouraging them to do so.
Diane Jones is WAmend coordinator and a PSARA member. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org