Drafted by Craig Clevidence
[Note: The author of the Renew Democracy proposal, Craig Clevidence, has updated the language at least twice since this analysis was first created. Our exchange below is from a much earlier version. The proposal and analysis were last updated on 9/27/16.]
Voter Bill of Rights
1. The right to make contributions and expenditures to candidates for elected office, elected representatives, and political parties belongs only to natural persons who are citizens of the United States, either through direct contributions and, or, a voter authorized public campaign funding system.
2. The right of the qualified individual citizen to participate in and directly elect all elected officeholders by popular vote in all pertinent local, state, and federal elections shall not be denied or abridged.
3. Political campaign and political party contributions by any citizen shall not exceed an amount reasonably affordable by the average citizen of the United States and the amount a citizen may contribute to their campaign for office shall not exceed 10 times that amount.
4. The raising and spending of money by groups and organizations established in full or in part to purchase advertisements or solicitations that advocate for or against candidates for elected office, elected representatives or political parties, or are active in the purchase of any media display of such advocacy may be equitably regulated by Congress and the States but only as to the volume, timing, and coordination of the spending, and public disclosure for all parties. Congress and the states may not impose any regulation on otherwise lawful content nor regulate any spending that is: less than 5 times the individual contribution limit per election cycle for statewide elections, nor less than 10 times the individual contribution limit per election cycle for federal elections.
5. The manner, amount and course of spending by those lobbying and petitioning of federal, state and local government officeholders by all groups and organizations and those who represent them may be equitably regulated by Congress and the states, and the lobbying and petitioning activities of current and past office holders may also be equitably regulated to prevent substantial influence from current or future transfers of money, goods, services or future employment.
Section 1 is mostly good but it would be stronger if “natural persons” was defined.
Section 2 includes a loophole in which the legislative definition of “qualified individual citizen” can be used to get around the “shall not be denied or infringed” prohibition. The right to vote idea is good—and a constitutional guarantee is long overdue—but it can’t leave the definition of voter qualification completely to the legislative process.
Limits on the scope of disqualification need to be proscribed in the amendment itself. Does the guarantee include convicted felons? Does it exclude those who have been found to be mentally incompetent in a court of law? Or people with dual citizenship? Simply deleting the word “qualified” would be too broad but failing to proscribe the criteria for disqualification is an invitation to tampering.
Section 3 is also a fine idea but, again, leaving the definition of “reasonably affordable” completely to the legislative process creates another loophole. While it’s never a good idea to include fixed dollar amounts in something as permanent as a constitutional amendment, there are other ways to limit legislative tampering. One example would be to limit the amount of an individual contribution to equal the amount of one month’s salary of median household income, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, updated every two years.
Section 4 gets at an important power the people must have to regulate the volume of content intended to influence elections but it leaves advocacy communications on other important processes, like ballot initiatives and pending legislation, completely off the table. The public disclosure clause is a bit clumsy at the end of a long sentence and should probably be stated separately. The prohibition on regulation below certain contribution limits is a bit granular but not fatally so. It’s not clear that the “otherwise lawful content” restriction is necessary.
Section 5 is pretty good. It would be stronger if this section stated “…shall be equitably regulated…” (instead of “…may be equitably regulated…”) but it’s a good idea to put a lid on K Street and significantly reduce the private/public sector revolving door, if possible.
The big picture on Renew Democracy’s proposal is its length and scope. It is covering a lot of ground on worthy issues but it doesn’t explicitly overturn Buckley v. Valeo or abolish corporate constitutional rights. It’s just as important to prevent corporate use of the judiciary to abrogate duly enacted regulation as it is to prevent corporate dominance of the democratic process. This proposal would be good to bring to an Article V Convention where the horse trading could lead to some of its provisions being included in any proposal(s) that wind up being sent to the states for ratification. But it’s doubtful that it could serve as a template for a single amendment proposal emanating from Congress.