Welcome to our first leadership newsletter of 2023. In this update, we have information about our 2023 Speaker Series and Q1 highlights of the emerging “tipping point” opportunity for our constitutional amendment to end systemic corruption of money in politics that is now backed by more than three out four Americans. Here’s some of the key items you can find in this newsletter:
Below is a highlight of some of the updates you’ll find in this newsletter:
Thank you for your leadership and support. I hope you enjoy our 2023 first quarter updates, and as always, please reach out with questions, suggestions, and support.
Introducing Our 2023 Leadership Speaker Series
How do we come together to build something better for the future? In a hyper-partisan climate, how do we bridge ideological divides to build a world we are excited to leave behind for the next generation? Specifically, how does addressing the issue of unchecked political spending and passing our For Our Freedom Amendment to set reasonable limits on campaign spending reshape this country to be one that is more equitable for all Americans?
For the last few years, we have enjoyed gathering with you for quarterly, virtual events at which we look forward to hearing the insights of you, our board, advisors, partners in civic renewal, and funders. For this year’s quarterly convenings, we will be hosting a Speaker Series featuring artists, thought leaders, journalists, and politicians, among others, speaking on the theme of bridging divides. Throughout this series, we will be asking – and offering answers for – questions about how we combat the divisiveness of the current moment.
As you know, past online and live speakers have included political leaders across the spectrum, such as Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Angus King (Ind.-ME), Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and John Katko (R-NY), Governors, such as Deval Patrick and Maura Healey, and State legislative leaders such as Maine Senators Rick Bennett and Nicole Grohoski; authors, scholars and civic leaders such as Doris Kearns Goodwin, Danielle Allen, Eric Liu, and Diane Hessan; business leaders such as Maureen Kline (Vice President of Public Affairs and Sustainability, Pirelli Tire North America), Matt Patsky (CEO, Trillium Asset Management), Elizabeth Doty (Leadership Momentum), and Neal Simon (Bronfman Rothschild), who also ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent in Maryland; presidential candidate and Forward Party co-founder, Andrew Yang; faith leaders such as Reverend Mitchell Hescox, Simran Jeet Singh, and Reverend Jennifer Bailey; and many more.
We’re thrilled to announce that we have already confirmed Trevor Potter, American Promise Advisory Council member, Republican former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and general counsel to John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 election campaigns, as a speaker for this year’s series, and will be announcing the rest of our speaker lineup in the weeks to come. If you have suggestions for speakers whose work aligns with our bridging theme, or ideas around topics to cover that intersect with bridging work, please let us know – we want this series to be interesting and informative for you, and welcome any recommendations for how to provide you the best programming possible. In the meantime, please register below to stay in-the-know on speaker series dates for early summer, fall, and year end.
To stay in the loop about our 2023 Speaker Series, sign up for announcements here.
We want to know your questions! Please feel free to submit in advance by emailing Liz Harvey at email@example.com.
American Promise, Winning Constitutional Amendments, and the American Promise Story
Tipping Points, as originally published online in The Fulcrum 3/20/2023
“Tipping point.” We’re hearing that phrase a lot these days.
In 2015, I spent months holed up in conference rooms with my friend John Wass. We were whiteboarding out what would become American Promise and our 10-year strategy to unite Americans behind fundamental reform of our political system. John has one of those Princeton/MIT brains, and the whiteboard quickly filled with the strange phrases of complex systems theory: “Non-linearity.” “Perturbations.” “Emergent properties.” And, of course, “tipping point.”
American society and politics are complex systems. So are pandemics, global banking, beehives, and lots of other things, big and small. Systems are everywhere, and systems thinking helps our understanding of how systems work and change.
Systems theory is at the core of American Promise’s strategy to win the For Our Freedom constitutional amendment to fix the number 1 reason why American democracy is threatened now: the systemic corruption of unaccountable money that drives our elections and government.
In the past few years, millions of Americans have voted in American Promise ballot initiatives, gathered signatures at state fairs and farmers markets, met with their lawmakers at citizen lobby days, posted on social media, or traveled to our annual National Citizens Leadership Conferences or local events. None of them needed to know anything about systems theory to help make a better America out of the mess of today. But whether we know nothing else about systems, we probably have heard the phrase “tipping point.”
John and I knew our constitutional amendment strategy would be met with skepticism from some who think constitutional amendments are impossible. But we also knew that constitutional amendments have always followed classic tipping point models. Or as Congressman Jamie Raskin said at one of our Conferences, we knew that American Promise could help shift the For Our Freedom Amendment “from impossible to inevitable.”
Seven years later, signs of tipping point are unmistakable. Seven out of ten Americans now believe that American democracy is under grave threat, and 86% identify money in politics as the top reason for that. For the first time ever, Pew Research reports that “reducing money in politics” is at the top of priorities that Americans want the President and Congress to act on now; it’s a higher priority than nearly everything else, including crime, immigration, budget deficits, and the climate crisis.
In Congress, a large group has reintroduced a constitutional amendment to enable regulation of money used to influence elections. It has close to 200 supporters in the House and fifty in the Senate. Yes, these are mostly Democrats but now Republicans are leading the amendment effort in the states. Seriously, even the New York Times has noticed.
Or just ask Rick Bennett, Republican State Senator in Maine, who is leading the Protect Maine Elections ballot campaign, a top American Promise initiative this year. Or listen to another Republican, Jim Rubens, a former New Hampshire State Senator, and current American Promise board member. You can see him live from CPAC on Newsmax last month.
Better yet, talk with American Promise volunteers in Brown County, Wisconsin, which just became the latest of nearly 1000 cities, towns and counties to enact formal resolutions calling for Congress to pass the anti-corruption constitutional amendment. Brown County voted for Mitt Romney for President in 2012, Donald Trump in 2016, and Donald Trump in 2020. The American Promise resolution won with 92% support.
Or just ask any American who has paid the high cost of systemic corruption infesting the crypto/investment world, our banking, healthcare, energy, food, and environmental systems.
In another sign of a tipping point, the Brennan Center for Justice, longtime amendment skeptics, held a symposium, Constitutional Amendments: Time to Rethink, last month in New York. I participated, along with some leading law scholars and New York Times editorial board member Jesse Wegman, who noted the sharp shift in prospects for constitutional reform.
Pessimists are still in the media to say nothing will change but now the media, like Newsmax, the New York Times, and NBC News, are calling American Promise to see what we think. Unlike the pessimists, we have receipts. American Promise has the evidence from Americans across the country who have helped drive 22 states to take action to formally demand that Congress pass the amendment and return it to the states for ratification.
Our Constitution largely derives from four brief “amendment eras” that have recurred roughly every 50 years. These were tipping point moments.
More than 40% of today’s Constitution was not part of the original document. Literally, not symbolically, the Constitution that opens with “We the People” comes from the people. It comes from the people who push amendments through the arduous Article V process of a ⅔ vote in Congress and ratification in ¾ of the states to adapt the Constitution to better serve freedom and justice. Fifty years after Americans ratified four constitutional amendments in less than ten years, a new amendment era may be upon us.
Tipping points rapidly transform complex systems under sustained, multi-factor stresses. From a non-human perspective, tipping points and transformation are neutral. A hurricane, volcano, war, or Great Depression are simply new conditions of complex systems. But from a human perspective, they are catastrophic. Tipping points also can transform conditions rapidly to be much better. Think of life expectancy, public health, and the rise of the middle class in the last century.
With American democracy and society under severe stress, tipping points will cause rapid transformation whether we like it or not. American Promise seeks to be an engine of service, hope, and action for every American to help make sure we can shape tipping point opportunities to transform to a much better state, rather than to something catastrophically worse.
David Nevins Bridging Fund and Fellowship
We are very excited to announce the launch of the David Nevins Bridging Fund and Fellowship. Thanks to the generosity of Bridge Alliance co-founder David Nevins, these initiatives will enable American Promise to partner more effectively with Bridge USA, Bridge Alliance, and other nonpartisan/cross-partisan organizations and networks to achieve our mission and bring more young Americans to our impactful work of civic healing and constitutional change. David Nevins shared that “no matter how well managed and how well funded any one organization is, significant political reform will not happen without an alliance to further collaborative interactions.”
The David Nevins Fellowship provides funding for a one year position for a recent college graduate to join American Promise staff as the Young Americans Network Coordinator, managing not only the recruitment, promotion, and support for the participation of young Americans in the National Citizen Leadership Conference and Citizen Lobby Day, but also the engagement and expansion of our national network of young Americans participating in American Promise’s work around the country. The American Promise Bridging Fund also will provide financial resources to expand our support, including scholarships, for young Americans to participate in our National Citizen Leadership Conference and other civic programming.
American Promise president Jeff Clements has known David for several years as their paths in the reform work crossed. “Like many of us, David came to the work of American democracy and civic renewal after a career in business. In the past several years, the impact of his leadership, philanthropy and vision has been both wide and deep. All of us at American Promise thank David for his partnership and look forward to celebrating with him at the 6th annual National Citizen Leadership Conference later this year.”
As one of the initial driving forces behind the Bridge Alliance and as chairman of the board, David Nevins brings business acumen, vision, and a tireless this-must-and-can-be-done zeal to the burgeoning movement to bridge divides to transform the political process. As a business leader, Nevins excels at building bridges between people and organizations from the right, left, and center for civil conversation leading to action. David established and continues to work with The Nevins Democracy Leaders program at Penn State University. This democratic leadership program introduces students to a different side of democracy – one that focuses not on campaigns and elections, but on bringing people together to work on common problems.
American Promise and our funding partners have been committed to engaging and supporting students and other young Americans in many ways, including our Writing the 28th Amendment program on college campuses, our partnership with BridgeUSA and scholarships for the National Citizen Leadership Conference, and our pilot constitutional “hack-a-thon” with teams from Texas Universities. We are grateful to David for his investment in significant expansion of this work.
If you consider joining David in expanding American Promise’s capacity to engage the rising new generation of Americans, please contact Liz Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Right to Left Model In Action
In the spirit of bridging divides, we want to highlight some of the authentic, inspiring cross-partisan conversations we’re having all over the country, both in person and online.
… At Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), and in Congress
Earlier this month, American Promise staff members Bill Cortese and Alan LaPolice, as well as American Promise Board member Jim Rubens, attended the Conservative Political Action Conference held in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the multi-day event – attended by both conservative activists and elected officials – our American Promise team had many positive conversations, both with conservative Americans already enthusiastically in support of our amendment, and with folks newer to the issue but who are deeply disturbed by the increasing influence of money on our elections.
As an example: one visitor to our AP booth became extremely supportive after speaking with Jim Rubens regarding foreign and dark money entering into US elections. He stated plainly that he was good friends with and an advisor to a Republican State Representative from North Dakota. Looking to add North Dakota to our growing list of states calling for our amendment, he stated that “we have complete control of the state legislature and I guarantee you could get your amendment through without democratic obstruction.”
As conservatives voice their demand for a change to our system that favors money in politics, we’re seeing continued Congressional support for our amendment as well. In January, Adam Schiff (D-CA), along with other House Democrats, re-introduced an amendment to end money’s grip on our elections, stating that it would “close legal loopholes exploited for far too long” by dark money.
… On Our Trainings
Also this month, Mike Monetta, our Vice President – Advocacy and Training, hosted a Citizen Lobby Week that brought together Republican Virginia Delegate Tim Anderson and Wyoming Democratic State Representative Ken Chestek. Speaking to their motivations for getting big money out of politics, these political leaders engaged with American Promise citizen leaders from all over the country on how to effectively learn about legislative processes and take effective legislative action.
Constitutional Amendments: Time to Rethink?
“I feel more optimistic than I’ve ever felt about constitutional reform.” That was the reaction of Jesse Wegman, New York Times editorial board member after hearing the American Promise case at the Brennan Center’s symposium, Constitutional Amendments: Time to Rethink?
Some legal scholars have been skeptical of the chances of amending the Constitution, pointing to perceptions of stark political polarization, social unrest, and lack of interest in “money in politics,” among other factors. We were able to demonstrate – with evidence – that the premises of such skepticism are off base and out of date:
The conversations and debates that came out of Constitutional Amendments: Time to Rethink? underscore what American Promise has known to be true since its founding; Americans can handle the job of making permanent, lasting change, and we need it now. For a complete recap of our takeaways, and to see what New York Times reporter Jesse Wegman had to say, read more here.
Our American Promise
Leila Blodgett Board member
This quarter, our donor profile celebrates our newest American Promise Board member Leila Blodgett. Leila comes to us after a 20+ year career in the financial services sector, where she focused on marketing and investor relations for investment consulting and private equity firms. In this role, she worked with both domestic and international teams to drive business and sales activities. She has served on education boards, and currently works with the leadership advisory board of her local Essex County Community Foundation. A native of San Francisco, she now resides in Massachusetts with her family.
What is your occupation?
Funnily enough, I started out wanting to be a prima ballerina. I did ballet all through my teens and then injured myself which put an abrupt halt to that dream! I then did what all ballerinas do and turned my sights to business. Right? Isn’t that what they all do? Ha!
I spent most of my years in the investment services and for the last 15+ years of my career [I] was in private equity, both on the research and investor relations side. I loved that industry [because] you always felt on the forefront of new ideas, technologies, and companies – learning what businesses, products and services were coming to market. It was an exciting industry to be in. I retired over a decade ago and have spent most of my time volunteering for various organizations that are near and dear to my heart.
How much time do you have?
There are several things that really keep me up at night. I think a lot about the legacy we’re leaving for our children. We are not leaving them an easy world to live in. The massive climate changes that we are witnessing around the world make you wonder, what will it be like 30 or 50 years from now? The divisive political landscape sets a poor tone and example for our kids. I also worry about the incredible power of AI. It’s an existential issue with far reaching implications to our economy, politics, and culture. AI has such potential, but nowhere near enough is being done to ensure its safety!
And although I’m not against this, the legalization of gambling and marijuana just adds to the complexities of growing up for our kids. Asking teenagers and 20 somethings to navigate these kinds of things is a big ask.
What is your current state of mind?
Despite my preoccupations (I know I sound like Ms. Doom and Gloom), I really am an eternal optimist. I think that keeps me sane. I believe that in general people are good, the world is good. I am hopeful. While I worry a lot about the future for our kids, I also know that there are wonderful people and organizations doing amazing things to make the world a better place. American Promise is a perfect example of this. It’s connected to so many issues I care about and when we get the amendment passed – that will be a great day! So yeah — I’m optimistic.
What are you reading/watching/listening to now?
I love the All-In podcast. It’s four industry veterans/entrepreneurs/best friends. It’s a great forum for these bright guys to talk about whatever they want. And they tend to have very different views on things which makes it fun to listen to. You’re getting real conversation instead of the typical media spin.
I love books about WWII and I think my book club hates me because I keep picking WWII stories every time it’s my turn to choose. Some of my favorites have included The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
[I also] have a book given to me by a friend called The Daily Stoic. It’s meditative, it’s thoughtful. It offers daily reflections from some of the ancient Stoic’s and gives it a modern day twist. A sort of “every day, here is something to think about.”
Which living person do you most admire?
Volodymyr Zolenskyy comes to mind. His courage, charisma and commitment to see his country through the war with Russia is inspiring.
Which historical figure(s) do you most identify with?
I have always been inspired by the women’s rights movement and those who came before us to pave the way. Even when I began working, women were still struggling for equal opportunity and I always admired powerful and influential women. Gloria Steinem, Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Madeleine Albright, Sandra Day O’Connor, Maya Angelou, Oprah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg etc… They are all so impressive in their own way.
What drew you to American Promise?
I’m at a point in my career and in my life where I am able to give back. I care deeply about a number of issues. But what I realized is that every issue you care about is severely impacted at the policy level. At the end of the day, anything that’s going to happen happens at the policy level. And right now, everything is being influenced by the massive amounts of money in politics. So the voice of the people, our votes, are being drowned out by special interests and big money.
And what is so great about American Promise is that it’s the first time in a long time I have heard a message of hope (and promise!). Bringing back limits to campaign financing and thereby bringing back the vote and the voice of the people just resonated so much with me. I thought, this really is one of the biggest issues out there. Its success will impact everything we care about. This is such a no brainer!
What We’re Reading
As we build a unified network of Americans across the political spectrum, we want to focus this quarter’s “what we’re reading” on what it takes to unify. To dive deeper on that issue, this quarter we’re featuring Our Common Ground: Insights from Four Years of Listening to American Voters, written by one of our previous AP Connect guests and current American Promise supporter, Diane Hessan.
An award-winning entrepreneur and innovator in market research, Diane Hessan is nationally recognized as an expert on the American voter. Our Common Ground underscores how much there is to know about the American voter, and how much better we understand the political climate in which we live when we bridge divides to come together and find common ground.
Diane’s research talking to Americans – and the subsequent accounts of those conversations, detailed in Our Common Ground – paints an optimistic picture for the future. Yes, our lost faith in our constitutional democracy has corroded our perspective on reaching across the aisle. But if we reframe our approach to conversations with others to focus on what we have in common, rather than on how we differ, we will have a path forward. Our Common Ground helps lay the groundwork for how we can start repairing some of the ways that our civic society is broken.
In addition to her work as an author, Diane serves as a member of the Boston Globe Editorial Board, where she has written a great deal about the voices of American voters. She is also the founder and chairman of C Space, which leverages social media for consumer insights.
If you choose to purchase Our Common Ground, or any of American Promise’s book recommendations, we encourage you to do so while supporting a Black-owned business. If you need help finding a Black-owned business near you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Corinne Noonan at email@example.com. Alternatively, we suggest purchasing from Bookshop.org.