BUZZ: Money is not Speech

By on September 6, 2017

(Photo: Joe Brusky)

Wyoming Promise seeks to add a 28th amendment to the Constitution to get dark money out of politics.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Ken Chestek and his volunteer team will be sporting red, white, blue and purple at Old Bill’s Saturday morning.

“Red and blue intersect to make purple,” Chestek said of his uniform. And “dark money” in politics is a non-partisan issue—one that members of all parties should work to eradicate.

Such is the mission of Chestek’s group “Wyoming Promise.” And this weekend is Teton County’s chance to get involved.

Wyoming Promise’s goal is a 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution that would overturn Citizen’s United. They gained momentum after former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson wrote a letter to Wyoming citizens urging them to “support a 28th amendment to the Constitution so we can have reasonable limits on election spending, reform pay-to-play politics, and secure human liberty and equal representation rather than turn our government over to a global corporate marketplace.”

Former governor Dave Freudenthal has also publicly supported the amendment.

Wyoming Promise has been collecting signatures for a 2018 ballot initiative to propose the amendment since the beginning of the summer. They have “several thousand” signatures, Chestek said. They need 38,318—15 percent of voters who turned out to the last presidential election.

But Chestek isn’t worried about support. In fact, he’s hoping to submit up to 50,000 signatures —12,000 more than the minimum requirement. Most of the country is on board, Chestek said.

“National polling says that 80 percent of voters across political parties want this to happen,” Chestek said. “Nine out of ten times, we get the signature. People are very supportive of what we’re trying to do.” Indeed, multiple polls in the wake of the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Supreme Court case indicate roughly 80 percent disapproval of the ruling.

Recall: the 2010 Supreme Court case made it possible for corporations and unions to donate unlimited amounts of money to politicians and lawmakers. It’s the case that more or less equated corporations with citizens, making political donations equivalent to free speech.

Without a cap on corporate donations, Chestek says, there’s no limit on who can buy politicians out, or for how much. “Our representatives are not representing us. They’re representing the people that give them lots of money.”

“Every time you turn around, there’s another example of how money affects everything,” Chestek continued. Take healthcare: when big pharmaceutical companies donate “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to political campaigns, the recipients of those donations are likely to vote in the interests of big pharma, not of their constituents, Chestek said.

Such was the case with Cory Booker, the democratic Senator from New Jersey. In January, Booker voted down a measure that would have lowered the cost of prescription drugs. Democrats blasted him, speculating that the $328,000 in donations from “Pharmaceuticals/Health Products” industries in 2014 must have swayed his vote. Booker has since put a pause on fundraising from pharma companies, according to The Hill.

Pharmaceutical and private healthcare companies are the biggest campaign donors to both Wyoming Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, according to Time Magazine. Enzi and Barrasso were two of the 13 architects of the American Health Care Act, President Donald Trump’s new healthcare bill, which if passed, would have left over 20 million people uninsured. Critics said the bill only aimed to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act without actually proposing how to replace it. It failed to pass in the Senate, “because people hated it,” Chestek said.

Nationwide, petitions and ballot initiatives to add a 28th amendment have already gained momentum. Nineteen other states have voted to call on Congress to propose the amendment.

There are two ways to bring an amendment in front of Congress, Chestek explained. Both are covered under Article V of  the Constitution which states, “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments…”

The first option, a proposal from Congress, is an uphill battle, Chestek says. “The problem we’re trying to solve is they’re addicted to money, and we’re trying to get them to stop being addicted to money. They can just ignore us saying pretty please.”

Alternatively, 34 states (two-thirds) can call for a Convention of States, and then propose the amendment. A convention of states, Chestek says, would override Congress.

However, of the 19 states that have already voted to propose the amendment, only five have called for a convention. So for now, Chestek says the priority is to get more states like Wyoming on board.

Passing legislation in Wyoming, as a citizens’ initiative, is fraught with its own unique challenges, Chestek says. In the most sparsely populated of the lower 48 states, the biggest obstacle is just “finding enough people in enough places.”

For the petition to make it onto the ballot, the Wyoming Secretary of State will have to verify that at least 16 of the state’s 23 counties are represented. But Wyoming’s counties spread far and wide meaning Wyoming Promise’s volunteers must as well. “Everybody wants to sign,” Chestek said. Finding volunteers is another story.

Every single signature has to be physical, on a piece of paper printed and certified by the Secretary of State. The volunteer circulating the petition also has go get their name signed and notarized. That means volunteers have to span the entire state if they want enough, and equal, representation on the petition.

“It’s a very specific, pretty rigid process for getting this done,” Chestek said.

Teton County currently has no volunteers. But Chestek hopes to change that this weekend. He and his team will be at Old Bill’s, canvassing for signatures and spreading information about how to get involved. Then at 1 pm Saturday, he will move to Teton County Library for an informational session. Look for him in his red, white, blue and purple t-shirt that says “free and fair elections.”

Chestek hopes people will motivate to get involved and volunteer. Canvassing “is not hard to do,” Chestek said. In fact, ‘it’s kinda fun.”

“The more people you have talking to people, the quicker we’ll get to 38,318.”

PJH

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