by Paul Keleher and John Lawrence
Wolf-Pac: A PAC Dedicated to Getting Money Out of Politics
The United States Supreme Court held (5–4) on 21 January 2010 that freedom of speech prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The principles articulated by the Supreme Court in the case have also been extended to for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.
Justice Kennedy writing for the majority said, "If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech." However, corporations (and any legally organized group of citizens) are legal entities chartered for a dedicated purpose and created by government, and as such should be regulated by government. They are not granted the constitutional protections the Constitution grants to human beings.
It is significant that Citizens United vs FEC (Federal Election Commission) involved Hillary Clinton as she was facing the 2008 election. A conservative non-profit called Citizens United wanted to do a smear job on Hillary by airing a movie right before the Democratic primary. They planned to advertise the movie on TV, but this would have violated a Federal statute about electioneering close to an election.
Today the SCOTUS decision in Citizens United vs. FEC is seen as giving the green light to political ads by wealthy groups who can, since that decision, spend an unlimited sum to get their (usually conservative) points across. Citizens United nullified the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act also known as the McCain-Feingold Act which had been in effect since 2002. Thus in one fell swoop the doors were opened wide for corporations to have an undue influence over the American political system. The poor had no similar access.
Americans Agree There is Too Much Money in Politics
A survey conducted by the New York Times in June of 2015 said in part the following: “In a rare show of unity Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, agree that money has too much influence on elections, the wealthy have more influence on elections, and candidates who win office promote policies that help their donors. With near unanimity, the public thinks the country’s campaign finance system needs significant changes. There is strong support across party lines for limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, limiting the amount of money groups not affiliated with candidates can spend, and requiring unaffiliated groups to publicly disclose their donors if they spend money during a political campaign. On the whole, Americans do not think donating money to political candidates is a form of free speech. Yet, opinions diverge along party lines with Republicans divided and slightly more inclined than Democrats or independents to agree.”
Article V of the U.S. Constitution, says in part, “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments ...” .
Cenk Uygur, formerly a television host for MS-NBC, founded Wolf-Pac in 2011 at a meeting of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. According to its charter, the sole purpose of Wolf-Pac is to call a convention of the states to propose one or more amendments to the U.S. Constitution to get big money out of politics. Mr. Uygur is also the host of TYT (The Young Turks), an American political commentary web series. Wikipedia defines Wolf-Pac as “an American non-partisan political action committee formed in 2011 with the goal of ending corporate personhood and publicly financing all elections in our country”. The organization gets it name from the fact that it is a “PAC” (a political action committee) whose members act together in numbers, like wolves, to fearlessly attack their prey.
Since Wolf-Pac believes that the US Congress either does not intend to or is incapable of seriously addressing the issue of campaign finance reform, it's strategy is to amend the constitution by going around Congress and the President as described in Article V: persuade 2/3 of the State Legislatures (that number is currently 34) to each pass a resolution calling for a convention to propose an amendment to the Constitution whose intent would be to minimize the corrosive influence of money in politics. Hence Wolf-Pac is organized by state, with help provided by members volunteering to phone-bank the constituents of targeted state legislators, asking not for money, but to simply call their state senator or rep and ask them to support a resolution for an Article V convention in order to overturn the Citizens United decision and get money out of politics.
Wolf-Pac Says: Amend the Constitution to Limit Money in Politics
From the Wolf-Pac website: “Calling for a convention on a specific issue is the strongest message we can send to Congress, and the most effective way to restore our democracy in the United States.” As of September 2016, five states (Vermont, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhodes Island ) have each passed resolutions calling for such a convention. Not all states have proposed and passed identical resolutions, as each state composes its own. However, each resolution demands a convention for the purpose of proposing a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform and expresses the desire that the agenda of any Wolf-Pac supported amendment convention be limited only to this topic.
An Article V convention has not been held since 1787, when the Bill of Rights was proposed. In the early part of the 20th century the proponents of the 17th amendment took 13 years to get 30 states (out of 32 needed) to pass resolutions calling for a convention to propose amendments. When it became clear to Congress that the 17th Amendment was going to happen with or without them, Congress decided to propose a constitutional amendment calling for the direct election of senators just before the required 2/3 majority was reached, thus preempting a convention. Congress may do this again.
There are presently 27 amendments to the Constitution. Not a single one addresses the issue of campaign finance reform. It's time the Constitution addressed this issue. A vast majority of Americans agree that money is corrupting American politics to the point that a then sitting American Congressman, Steve Israel (D-NY) publicly complained on “60 Minutes” that he was required to spend about half his time every week sitting in a booth at party headquarters in Washington calling a list of major donors to his political campaign. On January 8, 2015, Rep Israel wrote in the NY Times as he was leaving office, “As I announced on Tuesday (January 6), I’ll be leaving Congress at the end of this term — sentimental about many things, but liberated from a fund-raising regime that’s never been more dangerous to our democracy.”
Since any Amendment to the Constitution must address the relationship between a people and their government, an amendment relating to the use of money by organizations of people (any legal entity created by government) as opposed to people themselves is appropriate: thus, corporations (or any legally organized group) are not people. This expression means that an organization of people is not the same thing as the human beings who comprise that group.
Likewise, it follows that money is not speech. Money certainly can be used to buy speech, but it is not speech. It is a form of currency, while speech is language, a form of human expression, a means by which human beings express their ideas and thoughts. The importance of this distinction is that a healthy democracy depends on the ability of humans to directly express their ideas and thoughts through speech, not by paying someone else to speak for them through advertising.
Unlimited Money Tips the Balance in Favor of the Rich
The balance is tipped towards the interests of the rich when vast amounts of money are required in the exercise of free speech. There is obviously a difference between someone spouting off on a street corner and some entity organizing and paying for advertising on TV which is the form most political speech takes. Unless any legitimate group is given a certain amount of free TV ad time and every group is limited to the same amount, the balance of political speech is tipped in favor of those with the most money whether it is individuals or corporations. Wolf-Pac is dedicated to the public financing of elections.
Justice Stevens, in arguing for the minority on the Supreme Court, said that the Court's ruling "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution. A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold." He argued that in a democracy money should not determine the outcome of an election.
Furthermore, equating organizations of people to the people who comprise those organizations, and free speech to money is something that needs to be changed or elections and representation will continue to favor those with the ability to pay. This is not democracy; it is plutocracy. Wolf-Pac is dedicated to democracy and elections to any public office that are fair and affordable for all citizens.