The American electorate has been statistically sliced and diced during the 2012 national election in unprecedented ways. First there was the 1 percent. Then there was the 47 percent. I’m counted among the 80 percent who think the system we use to finance our campaigns is out of whack, a super majority that gives me hope reform could actually defy the political odds in my lifetime.
A recent Associated Press poll reveals that Americans are overwhelmingly disgusted with the amount of money spent in politics: 85 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of independents (that would be me), which is 80 percent overall. You might think it would be a no-brainer for elected officials and political wannabes to jump in front of such a popular issue. I’ve never met a politician who liked dialing for dollars, and the daunting cost of running a race keeps many good people out of the game. Few, however, have stepped up to the plate. The fear of losing is too great, the inertia of the status quo way too powerful.
The tipping point, however, may have been the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court in January 2010, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy giving corporations the same First Amendment rights as individuals to make political contributions. Within six months, Super PACs emerged, unleashing donors (some legally anonymous) empowered to make unlimited contributions and spend freely, often taking what some call “considerable liberties” with their messages.
This year’s presidential campaign is the first national election since those two seminal events in American politics. Early in the race, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert formed his own Super PAC, called Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. His lampooning of the ridiculous loopholes in the laws governing Super PACs took hold unexpectedly and earned him an invitation to testify before the Federal Elections Commission. At last report, he had collected over three-quarters of a million dollars and educated millions of TV and web viewers on the issue.
Our former Republican Gov. Buddy Roemer took a more serious approach to money grubbing in politics, launching his own bid for president with campaign finance reform central to his candidacy. Appearing with some regularity on cable news shows, from Colbert and John Stewart’s Daily Show to former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough’s Morning Joe, Roemer vowed to take no PAC money and no contributions over $100. I was hoping his anti-corruption message would get some traction, but he couldn’t even get enough respect within his own party to garner an invite to the early primary debates. His message deserved a wider audience.
Perhaps a little humor is the ticket. Enter Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, who has joined the Move to Amend campaign with a goal to amend the Constitution to state that corporations are not people and that money is not free speech. The group produced rubber stamps, designed so supporters can stamp paper currency with slogans like “Money’s Not Speech” (available online at movetoamend.org). Cohen recently embarked on a nationwide Stamp Stampede to promote the effort, his giant Amend-O-Matic money stamping machine in tow. “Despite how broken our political system is, when there is aggressive grass-roots support to make something happen, Congress usually does something,” he said at the launch. “Stamping money is something anyone can do.”
I hope Cohen’s money machine wends its way through ABiz territory on its cross-country trek this month. I hope every Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fan orders a stamp and joins the stampede. But mostly I hope to live long enough to see Move to Amend succeed. With 80 percent of us ready for change, surely this is one constitutional amendment that can get American citizens united.