As we approach the 10th anniversary of Citizens United, American Promise is calling on citizens across the nation to raise awareness about the solution to the problems caused by this and other related SCOTUS rulings.
The Citizens United decision has allowed wealthy special interests and corporations to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. But the last decade has also been marked by citizen leaders achieving big wins in the fight for democracy just by spreading the word.
An easy way to do this is by writing a letter to the editor (LTE), and this guide will help you write your own.
Why should I write an LTE?
Writing a letter to the editor of your local or regional newspaper is a compelling way to express the importance of an issue, and the 10th anniversary of Citizens United means big money in politics is especially timely.
LTEs are effective in reaching large audiences and even elected officials as they keep tabs on what their constituents are talking about.
What should I say?
Open your letter with a simple, professional greeting, such as “To the editor:”.
Start off strong by making the case of your LTE at the beginning. LTEs should be brief, as most newspapers have length limits, so write clearly and directly. When introducing the issue, you should also establish your position on it.
- “January 21 is the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which ruled that unlimited political spending is protected as free speech. This has corrupted the foundation of our democracy by concentrating the power of the people into the hands of the wealthy few.”
Once you’ve made the purpose of your LTE clear, provide one or two key arguments as to why others in your community should care about getting big money out of politics. Give some real-life examples of how big money in politics affects our daily lives, such as healthcare costs, the opioid crisis, or climate change. Speak to this reform as a fundamental one, making clear that progress can’t be made on any one issue without addressing this common cause first.
- “Here’s a major reason that Congress’s approval rating is so low: when senators and representatives rely on unregulated cash from Super PACs, their policies and positions reflect those of major donors rather than constituents. Reforms on issues like climate change, guns, and healthcare are supported by the majority of Americans—and, privately, by many of their Congressional members—but nothing happens because they are beholden to the policy preferences of major donors. Mix unregulated spending with career politicians, many of whose sole aim is re-election, and the result is a fiscal arms race that erodes our democracy and silences our citizens’ voices.” —Henry Loughlin from Portland, Maine
Make sure to back up your claims with evidence, whether a national statistic or personal anecdote.
- Overturning Citizens United isn’t just a liberal issue: “Big money in politics is not a partisan issue. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 77% of Americans agree on the need for limits on the amount that individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns. This includes 71% of Republicans and right-leaning independents, and 85% of Democrats. A super-majority of citizens support a more level political playing field where each citizen has an equal voice, as 74% of Americans say it is ‘very important’ that major political donors do not have more influence than others and another 16% say this is ‘somewhat important.’”
- Cross-partisan work is being done for a solution to the problems caused by CU: “The amendment to end the domination of big money in politics has already made significant progress. In 2019, New Hampshire became the 20th state to formally call on Congress to pass such an amendment, crossing the halfway point to the 38 states needed to ratify. Across the nation, more than 800 cities and towns have also passed resolutions in favor of such an amendment, and hundreds of thousands of citizens across the nation are united in working toward this solution.”
End with a call to action. Readers should be inspired to seek solutions after reading your LTE, so explain that there are active efforts to reaffirm the power of the people in democracy. This is a great opportunity to encourage them to get involved in a local American Promise Association (APA), to learn more about American Promise’s campaign for the 28th Amendment, or just to educate themselves by reading up on democracy reform online.
- Draw attention to American Promise as driving a solution: “To address [Big Money in politics and the many policy problems that result], the non-partisan American Promise organization backs a new 28th Amendment, which has been co-sponsored by more than 185 members of the 116th Congress from both parties. ….To find out more about the 28th Amendment and the efforts to limit dark money, go to americanpromise.net.” —Edward Acosta from Olathe, Kansas
- Why a constitutional amendment is an effective solution: “An amendment is historically how the American people have overturned poor Supreme Court decisions—including the Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery, and the Minor v Happersett decision that barred women’s right to vote. An amendment creates the constitutional basis necessary to create legislation limiting the influence of big money in elections, and is a more permanent solution than can be offered by legislation.”
Sign off with your full name. Many newspapers also require contact information so the editor can verify your identity before publishing your LTE. Take note of submission guidelines as you might have to include your phone number or address.
Finally, submit your LTE. Visit the website of your newspaper of choice to see how to send yours in; most newspapers accept submissions via email.
For more language ideas and examples, check out these talking points.