A national advocate for limiting money’s influence in politics is touring Alaska.
He’s pitching a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires a supermajority of Congress. He said nearly half the Senate and 200 members of the House of Representatives are on board so far.
The proposed amendment wouldn’t stop unlimited spending by super PACs or redefine corporations’ or the wealthy’s right to influence elections. But it would return the authority to do so to Congress and state lawmakers.
“This is about putting the power back in your hands and Alaska to decide how you want to do it,” said Jeff Clements, founder and president of the group American Promise.
Clements is also a Massachusetts attorney and author of the book “Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It.”
“Maybe you want that law about money from outside, maybe you want that law about limits on PACs. Maybe you want that law about having corporations be in the economy, but not in the every election,” Clements said. “Or you might decide, you know what? We don’t have a problem.”
The amendment that Clements’ group proposes would nullify parts of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. It struck down many laws that capped how much corporations and individuals could spend in political campaigns.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the court’s opinion, which equated spending money on political campaigns to protected free speech. He discussed the decision in a 2012 CNN interview with Piers Morgan.
Scalia: You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.
Morgan: Can’t you?
Scalia: It’s utterly impossible. Could you tell newspaper publishers, you can only spend so much money in the publication of your newspaper? Would they not say this is abridging my speech?
But Clements contends that the right to free speech isn’t absolute — speakers’ time is limited in public hearings, parade organizers need permits, protesters can’t hold noisy demonstrations in the middle of the night. He argues these restrictions protect an equal right to speak freely and to be heard.
“To decide you’re going to drop in $100 million into an election, or millions of dollars into an election, that’s like shouting over your fellow citizens,” he said.
Clements claimed national polls show Americans across party lines support the intentions of the amendment. He urged state and local officials in Alaska to join the 19 states and 800 American cities that American Promise counts as supporting the amendment.
“That’s why we’re going all over the country. Lets see who wants to be next,” he said.
Alaska’s congressional delegation has not committed. Some members of the last Alaska Legislature have introduced resolutions in the past, but only one committee hearing was held on them over two years. None advanced.
KTOO co-produced long-form coverage of Clements’ talk with the Juneau World Affairs Council.