New Pro-Amendment Group Hosts National Citizen Leadership Conference
This fall saw the emergence of a significant new player in the movement to overturn Citizens United via a constitutional amendment. The new group is American Promise, and it held its successful inaugural/launch conference at a downtown D.C. hotel Sept. 30–Oct. 2.
About 300 people attended the National Citizen Leadership Conference—a pretty impressive turnout for the launch of a new organization. Also impressive was the lineup of speakers and participants from across the political and ideological spectrum, as well as the logistical planning, which is owed almost exclusively to the effort of Susan Muller, Events and Operations Manager for AP.
The most notable feature of American Promise is its dedication to building an “omnipartisan” movement – neither left nor right, Democratic nor Republican. In keeping with that goal, AP speakers and panelists included retired U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).
The president and founder of AP is Jeff Clements, author of the book “Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money and Global Corporations” (Berrett-Koehler, 2014), and cofounder of the organization Free Speech for People.
Attending the conference were people from 40 states, including state and local office-holders, community activists and leaders of numerous pro-reform organizations, such as People for the American Way, Move to Amend, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Wolf-PAC, Money Out Voters In, and many others. Attendees were overwhelmingly white, and most were over 50 by the looks of them.
Those attending were required to pay $100 or $60 for those who registered early, or join AP at a minimum of $5 per month.
Clements and Associate director for Citizen Engagement Ben Gubits told TAG that AP “does not have an ideology” and currently is not proposing specific wording for a constitutional amendment. But, Gubits said, “There will come a time when we need to have one. At some point we need one approach and one amendment.”
For the present, AP’s focus is on “creating an infrastructure for new people in this movement,” Gubits said. AP intends to be a membership organization, with local chapters. Membership dues are from $5 to $50 per month, with a cap of $50. To launch the organization, AP obtained a number of private donations and small foundation grants.
AP successfully presented a respectable middle-class face for a movement that at times has had a more rough-hewn and grassroots image. The name American Promise, of course, is vague and not likely to arouse angry opposition. The conference met at the Renaissance Marriott Downtown Hotel – not a luxurious venue, but an entirely presentable one.
AP also has an advisory board that includes business executives and authors, as well as former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D). Check out www.americanpromise.net for more information.
The conference included several well-attended and enthusiastic plenary events, as well as a number of smaller sessions on topics such as winning state ballot initiatives, and what exactly the amendment should say. There were opportunities for brain-storming and informally sharing ideas, dancing to live music, and the ever-popular Ben & Jerry’s ice cream feed. At one plenary session, Joe Kearns Goodwin, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, put forth a call to national service.
What happens next? AP is not backing candidates in the November 2016 election, but it is urging support of two statewide ballot measures – in California and Washington state — that would curb the role of big money in politics.
In the near future, says Clements, “there’s not a big emphasis on lobbying Congress” but rather on building support for ratification in states and communities. Gubits says AP welcomes input from activists. He can be reached at email@example.com.