MN’s “We the People Act” aims to compel congressional action

Sen. John Marty

Sen. John Marty

Minnesota legislature is moving a bill, SF17, through committees that would, if passed by both houses and signed by Governor Dayton (DFL), tell Congress to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would end corporate personhood, end the doctrine that money is speech and require full disclosure of all campaign contributions and expenditures. If Congress does not pass such an amendment, it calls for “a constitutional convention for the purpose of proposing the amendment language or substantially similar amendment language as contained in this resolution as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” On February 26th, the bill, sponsored by Senator John Marty, passed in the MN Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines, and on March 14th his bill passed in the senate Rules Committee with one Republican vote.

This strategy has not yet been tried in any other state. A bill, unlike a resolution, has the force of law. If Congress does not act, then a constitutional convention will be called to try to pass this amendment once enough other states follow suit. This may be the reason why Public Citizen is one public interest group that has not stepped forward to support the Marty bill. PC wants an amendment; but, according to Jonah Minkoff-Zern from their Democracy is for People campaign, Public Citizen is not willing to risk the consequences of actually having a constitutional convention.

During the course of a phone interview on March 8th, Marty explained that he did not want to pass a mere resolution that would end up being ignored when it got to Congress. If he was going to spend time on this effort, he wanted to compel Congress to act. Asked if he has any concerns about what the upshot of a constitutional convention would be, Senator Marty replied that “it won’t get to that. Congress does not want to allow a constitutional convention” to take place. He conveyed that 27 states had done this to get Congress to pass an amendment, the seventeenth, allowing direct elections of U.S. Senators, and that Congress was moved at that point to avoid the damaging or unexpected amendments that could be passed in a convention.

MN Capitol Building

MN Capitol Building

Since the Judiciary Committee passed the SF17 along party lines, Marty was asked if he thought any Republicans would vote in support of the amendment bill. The Senator did not express optimism. “They tend to stick together, 100%.”  The Republican, who voted for this bill in the rules committee, was Senator Scott Newman. His office did not respond to a TAG request for a comment about his vote of support.

Last week Marty also conveyed  the story told before the  Judiciary Committee of Robin Monahan, who said in part:

In January of 2010 I woke up from a comfortable retirement slumber, to hear that the U.S Supreme Court, in its decision on Citizens United, had granted corporations the same status as persons with constitutional rights and freedom to spend unlimited amounts of corporate money on any election that they wish. I asked myself the question; Do corporations need constitutional rights and more influence in our elections and legislative process? My answer, based on my experiences in health care and small business, was NO! Corporations are not people.

I was outraged by the Citizens United decision and felt the need to do something. Not having been politically active, and unsure of what to do, my older brother and I agreed that we would walk across the United States to raise the awareness of people to the harm that the Citizens United decision  does to Democracy. From mid May to late October of 2010, I walked with my older brother from the Pacific to the Atlantic and had wonderful conversations with thousands of natural persons from the entire, political, social, and economic spectrum.   99%  of the people we met agreed that Democracy is worth striving toward, and the Citizens United decision needs to be corrected. We didn’t talk with any corporations, corporations don’t have conversations, corporations aren’t people, money is not speech.

The language of SF 17 is to help move We The People back on the road toward Democracy by reserving constitutional rights for natural persons, and by making elections fair, where a natural person’s vote and voice is important, and not smothered into irrelevance by millions of dollars  dropped into our elections by anonymous sources. We The People want the influence of big money out of politics and to end corporate rule. Because of Supreme Court decisions, we need a Constitutional Amendment.

A Constitutional Amendment is an ambitious goal. Previous Amendments that corrected Supreme Court decisions include the13th and 14th Amendments that corrected the Dred Scott decision, and the 19th Amendment, women’s suffrage, that corrected Minor V. Happersett, a court decision denying women the right to vote. Those were ambitious goals, and yet, when we look back on those historic amendments and see, what looks obvious today, first, the necessity to correct social injustice, and second, the inevitability of the passage of those amendments on the road toward Democracy.

You and I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, now you have an opportunity to be remembered in history for upholding and defending, by correcting injustice with the promotion of this bill forward.  SF17 is a non partisan bill, having broad popular support, for getting money out of politics, ending corporate rule, and allowing We The People, all natural persons, to keep moving toward Democracy.

Asked if anyone spoke up during the committee hearing to express anxiety about the constitutional convention, Marty answered that one Democrat expressed concerns about it but ended up voting for the bill. He also pointed out that WolfPAC, an amendment advocacy PAC started by Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks , supports a strategy of using a constitutional convention to compel Congress to act, and their model for this was the 17th Amendment.

Move to Amend activist Mark Halvorson of MN conveyed to the Gazette that they alone have over 4,000 citizens and an e-mail blast to them will go out once the bill makes it to the senate floor. The MN House is expected to begin committee hearings on this bill soon. Halvorson added that “the ‘We the People Act’ before the Minnesota legislature has given Move to Amend activists an opportunity to have conversations with legislators from both sides of the aisle throughout the state and an opportunity to reach out to new constituents.”

The bill is now on the senate floor awaiting debate. As Senator Marty pointed out last week, “there is a lot of work ahead of us.” This work has less to do with convincing Americans, who already agree with passing an amendment to overturn Citizens United, than it does with having the grassroots movement underway gain enough energy and supporters and then motivating them to push the politicians through the Overton window of popular support. Halvorson noted that the lessons learned in MN will be invaluable for amendment advocates in other states.

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1 comment for “MN’s “We the People Act” aims to compel congressional action

  1. February 26, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    MOVE TO AMEND’s We the People Act passed the Civil Law Committee today in MN. The language is the same as SF17–including the petition for a constitutional convention.

    CONGRATS to MTA! Move the ball!!

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