Ratifying an amendment to abolish constitutional rights for artificial entities1 of all types and end the doctrine of treating the spending of money as a form of constitutionally protected speech2 is supported by liberals, progressives, moderates, conservatives, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters alike, all in large numbers. According to polling conducted for Free Speech for People one year after the Citizens United3 decision, with only 22% of the public aware of the decision, 79% still supported passage of an amendment to abolish constitutional rights for corporations, including 68% of Republicans.4 In a poll conducted for Represent.us in 2013, 92% of respondents said it was important to reduce the influence of money in elections, 97% said it was important to reduce the influence of corruption in elections, and 97% said they would support “tough” new anti-corruption laws.5
Framing these issues as part of a liberal agenda is one of the biggest problems facing the movement to amend the Constitution. Messaging that big money conservatives like the Koch brothers are the only reason to overturn the Citizens United decision, introducing amendments that are either partisan (carve outs for unions) or ineffectual (carve outs for non-profits and/or campaign finance only)—as multiple Democratic representatives have done—and creating whole new organizations6 for the specific purpose of stirring up liberal outrage and cashing checks under the guise of overturning Citizens United—as the DNC has done—are all examples of this problem. In fact, treating this movement like any other partisan campaign issue is among the biggest challenges facing our movement.
Democrats aren’t the only ones who have chosen to frame this as a progressive issue. Some grassroots organizations have fallen into the same trap. They seem to believe it’s possible to spark a strong enough left-wing populist wave to change the complexion of American politics, bring about progressive super-majorities in the U.S. Congress, convert state legislatures from red to blue and, thereby, create the conditions necessary for the ratification of a Constitutional Amendment to abolish constitutional rights for legal fictions and the spending of money as a form of protected speech. While the demographics are indeed shifting toward a more pluralistic society, there is no guarantee that the emerging non-white majority will be any more progressive than the current electorate, nor are we likely to reap the benefits of the shifting American demographics before the 2020 and 2030 census counts have forced the new normal to percolate into the political calculus of the duopoly entrenched in Washington and state houses around the country.
Convincing the U.S. Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution means persuading 67 Senators and 290 Representatives to vote in favor of the proposal. Forcing the U.S Congress to call a Constitutional Convention requires persuading the legislatures of 34 states to pass applications through both chambers. If a proposal from the U.S Congress, or one from a Constitutional Convention, is sent to the states for ratification it will have to be ratified in the legislatures or by state conventions in 38 states. That’s the unavoidable math.
In 2014 24% of Americans self-identified as “liberal.” Granted, that percentage has been rising in recent years, but in the same Gallup Poll, 38% self-identified as “conservative” and 34% self-identified as “moderate.” Those numbers have fluctuated only slightly over the last two decades. Self-identified liberals make up 5% of Republicans and 21% of Independents. Self-identified conservatives make up 19% of Democrats and 33% of Independents.7 Even with liberal gains over the last two decades, moderates and conservatives outnumber liberals by 3 to 1. There are four times as many conservative Democrats as there are liberal Republicans… four times.
There are many people who support a mix of policies, including issues that are traditionally understood to be liberal or progressive, and still self-identify as conservative. Corporatism, disguised as conservatism, is celebrated in the media. Corporatism has been intertwined with conservatism and business success in popular culture and political punditry for decades, with three entire cable networks (CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox Business) devoted to nothing but worship of unfettered wealth accumulation by multinational corporations. While the big three cable news networks (Fox, CNN and MSNBC) seem to present a range of partisan views, the reality is that all three present different aspects of a single narrative that is rooted in the interests of multinational corporations, international banking cartels and their foreign partners, like communist China and Saudi-controlled OPEC.
The manipulative portrayal of “conservatism” in the corporate media as the responsible paternal antithesis to the “welfare moochers” on the left plays a big role in persuading hard-working Americans to identify with characteristics they see in themselves. That’s not going to change for a long time. The Internet and alternative media aren’t going to help much, either, since there’s a Redstate.com for every FiredogLake.com, hundreds of echo chamber websites that serve to merely amplify8 the ideological priorities of both left and right, from off-center to the outer fringes. At best, a partisan war can only be fought to a stalemate. That’s the reality we have to accept if we’re to achieve success, because the biggest challenge will be in the states.
According to RCP.com, “The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers – the highest number in the history of the party.”9 Going into the 2015 legislative season, Republicans control the entire state legislative apparatus in 31 states, including de-facto control of the non-partisan Nebraska unicameral legislature. 11 states are under Democratic control, and 8 states are split. In states with Republican control of both chambers, the average Senate margin is 26 seats to 12 and the average House margin is 76 seats to 39. The unicameral legislature in Nebraska has 35 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
Remember that 70% of Republicans self-identify as conservative, which means that GOP control of a state legislature is an indication of conservative strength in the electorate. And since conservatives also make up 19% of Democrats, parity between the parties also translates to conservative strength in the electorate. So even if liberals and moderates make significant gains over the next several election cycles, it will take at least two census counts over the next 15 years for redistricting10 to catch up with any such gains. The GOP is at its high water mark for control of state governments but they still don’t have a supermajority. Conservatives can’t ram an amendment through the states any more than liberals can. So the probability that a swing in the electorate could lead to liberal control of both chambers in 38 state legislatures before the 2030 census, or even the 2040 census, is so close to zero as to be indistinguishable from it.
Most corporate media is jaded, lazy and greedy. It’s easier to cover “wedge” issues that generate controversies used to “divide and conquer” the electorate than it is to cover boring civic issues like corporate personhood and money as speech. That’s why this issue is most often framed as merely “campaign finance reform.” It’s easier to understand and explain, and slightly less boring from a producer’s point of view. Add to that the simple truth that media conglomerates are among the biggest beneficiaries of the obscene amount of spending in political campaigns and it becomes obvious that the media isn’t going to go out of its way to help stop its own gravy train.
Playing out the amendment movement as a partisan exercise is more than just a recipe for certain failure. It’s a waste of one of the most golden of opportunities in American political organizing history. The amendment movement isn’t going to morph into one that can attract media attention on its own. What could attract attention of both the media and politicians is bringing together disparate constituencies in a single-issue alliance. That’s why the partnership between the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org on the issue of net neutrality got noticed.11 Both groups, with large memberships and sophisticated messaging structures, have some limited power to sway opposite sides of a political constituency. Working both sides of the street leaves fewer ideological escape hatches for politicians and creates a spectacle that even jaded media types can find interesting.
Most importantly, liberals and conservatives working together on an issue12 translates into political power that even wealthy campaign donors can’t overcome, because donors can spend as many billions as they want but they can only vote once. The only force that has the power to challenge the wealthy donor class is the political constituency. A constituency united on an important issue can be a stronger influence on policy than special interests, their lobbyists and their millions in campaign cash combined, especially when an important component of that issue is that Republicans, Democrats and Independents all place big money donors at the top of their lists of groups with too much influence in Washington D.C.5
There are no guarantees, but an uphill fight can be made much more level when opposing ideologies are brought together around specific issues. What is certain is that there is no equation in which the math can be made to work in our favor if we allow the movement to be co-opted as merely part of a left-wing agenda. Hoping that a sustainable progressive wave will materialize, or be jump-started by changing demographics, isn’t going to work. “Waiting for Godot” is the wrong strategy.
Proponents of an amendment must create unity across all lines that are typically manipulated to keep us divided: race, gender, class, religion, geography, ancestry, sexual orientation, party affiliation and ideological identification. Our differences must be temporarily set aside to keep the focus on the goal of ratifying a strong amendment. We must unite to preserve the integrity of our republican democracy and the sovereignty of the American people over their governments and institutions.
1 – The Amendment Gazette, How Corporations Became People, by Paul Westlake and Victor Tiffany, 3/12/13
2 – The Amendment Gazette, How Spending Money Became a Form of Speech, by Victor Tiffany and Paul Westlake, 3/12/13
3 – The Amendment Gazette, What Is Citizens United? by Paul Westlake, 8/22/12
4 – Hart Research Associates, Impressions of the Citizens United Decision and a Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Overturn It (PDF), 12/27/10 – 1/3/11
5 – MFour Mobile Research, Represent.us National Voter Survey (PDF), 11/12/13 – 11/17/13
6 – End Citizens United, Democrats Fighting Big Money, About Us
7 – Gallup, U.S. Liberals at Record 24%, but Still Trail Conservatives, by Lydia Saad, 1/9/15
8 – Journo Watch, The Amplifier vs. The Flow, by Paul Westlake, 3/29/11
9 – Real Clear Politics, The Other GOP Wave: State Legislatures, by David Byler, 11/11/14
10 – Republican State Leadership Cmte., The Redistricting Majority Project, 1/4/2013
11 – Huffington Post, How the Christian Coalition and MoveOn Helped Save Net Neutrality: A Buried Story of a Powerful Coalition, by Paul Loeb, 2/25/15
12 – Yes! Magazine, Can the Left and Right Unite to End Corporate Rule? An Interview with Ralph Nader and Daniel McCarthy, by Sarah van Gelder, 3/6/15