In the 13 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, election spending has soared to increasingly new heights as wealthy donors use their dollars to influence elected officials and policy. Skyrocketing campaign spending on both sides of the political aisle often is used to fund divisive and misleading election advertising.
But a recent episode of the Dr. Jim Discovering New Horizons podcast highlighted how the problem of campaign spending also is bringing together Americans across the political spectrum. During the podcast, American Promise President Jeff Clements and host James Polakof discussed how thousands of citizens are uniting to advance a Constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance. The citizen-powered American Promise movement aims to get big money out of U.S. politics and win the For Our Freedom Amendment.
“The biggest problem we’re tackling at American Promise is one I think most Americans agree on, which is there’s way too much money from special interests and the very few who can spend millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections — and it’s corrupting our political system,” Clements said. “We formed American Promise to say, well, let’s get a Constitutional solution. And that’s a big deal.”
Listen to their full podcast discussion or keep reading for highlights from Clements during the conversation.
On the corruptive influence of money in U.S. elections:
Clements: It’s a systemic problem. It’s not the old problem of, you know, a bag of cash to a politician in a dark alley to get the law changed. The entire system is based on massive bags of cash being spent to change the law by determining who actually gets to run and who serves in office and what they better do or not do.
The corruption danger is that both the amount of the money corrupts in this way and those spending the money obviously have massive influence. … It’s both sides, but they’re spending at such an extraordinary amount. It’s not $1,000; it’s not $10,000; it’s tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. … It corrupts the entire system because the parties dance to their tune, and the parties actually respond. So now, each party has massive Super PACs, filled by millionaires and billionaires in big corporations.
On ways that foreign money corrupts U.S. elections:
Clements: One thing the founders of the republic feared most was foreign interference. … Anyone can spend money in a Super PAC, and if you can’t trace it … that means anyone anywhere in the world, including Intel ops of other governments, are spending money.
The Supreme Court has said corporations can spend all the money they want in our elections, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Well, that’s foreign government influence as well when foreign governments own or control those corporations.
On the intent of the For Our Freedom Amendment:
Clements: The simple words of the For Our Freedom Amendment say that in order to protect our free speech, our representation, our self-government from corruption, we the people … have the right to enact reasonable and effective regulations about how money is spent in our elections.
It just puts basic common sense back in so that we the people can pass laws again that say … you can spend money in elections, but there’s a limit so that we don’t drown out the free speech of other Americans. … We’re trying to preserve and defend a form of government for centuries to come. … An amendment takes two-thirds of Congress with ratification and 38 states — three-quarters of the states. It forces us to act together and forces us to unite.
On American Promise’s progress and future plans:
Clements: We’ve made a lot of progress: 22 states have formally passed resolutions calling on Congress to get this amendment out of Congress back to the states for ratification. Six of those states were by ballot initiative, citizen initiative. … 800 cities and towns have passed resolutions. … This is not just the sort of idea that we’re just starting; we’re nearing the tipping point when we can get this done.
It’s going to be very hard to get a Constitutional amendment done because Americans don’t do it every day. But as Winston Churchill said, Americans always do the right thing after exhausting all the other possibilities. And I think that’s where we are now.
On obstacles to an amendment:
Clements: There are three major obstacles. The first obstacle is ourselves. Do we actually believe we can do it? Because if we think amendments to the Constitution are sort of pie-in-the-sky, never gonna happen, that kind of gives us an excuse to not try, right? … We need to believe in ourselves.
The second obstacle is the partisan division. All those billions of dollars being spent are not just being spent promoting candidates. Most of the money is actually spent attacking and tearing down and trying to scare us about the other side. … For many people, it makes you lose faith in your fellow Americans, and we can’t get this done if we think our fellow Americans are the enemy. … The way we respond to that is let’s remember the values we share. Let’s remember the future we share.
And three is a multi-billion-dollar political operative class that has emerged. … We’re going to run into some resistance from people who don’t want to change this system. It’s working very well (for them). … Our strategy on that one is to make sure as many Americans as possible are engaged in this. … We’re going to connect Americans so we won’t get played by the billion-dollar industry. … They’re obstacles to a lot of things, not just this amendment. But we’re determined to take them on.