Our group, Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution (SMAC), was formed in November 2011 to build grassroots support for an amendment to the United States Constitution to reform our electoral processes around two simple principles: Money is not speech, and corporations are not people. These principles, simple and obvious as they are to most folks, have been undermined by a series of corporatist Supreme Court decisions that have left us with campaigns awash with money, elected officials beholden to moneyed interests and a system the Founding Fathers would doubtless find unrecognizable.
SMAC immediately began organizing rallies and marches, holding forums and issuing press releases. We lobbied the City Council and State Legislature to pass resolutions calling for the constitutional amendment. Sixteen states and more than 300 municipalities have passed similar resolutions to date; those passed by initiative have received 60 to 70 percent of the vote. However, the Spokane and Washington resolutions have failed.
On April 12, we delivered a petition to the City of Spokane with 3,600 signatures to place a clean and fair elections ordinance on the November ballot. Since then, we have received much press attention. Last month we were sued by a group including three city councilmembers, the county commissioners, associations of realtors and developers, plus Avista and other business and corporate interests.
A lot of the fuss concerns whether citizens should be allowed to vote on an issue that the Supreme Court appears to have settled. It is wise to recall issues in the past that the Court once “settled.” Slavery, women’s right to the vote and racial inequality were all subject to the societal norms of the time, norms upheld by the courts. And then after decades of struggle, the country changed. Sometimes change came by Constitutional amendment, in other cases the Supreme Court changed its mind. But it always started with the people refusing to accept the status quo and resisting.
There are other examples of this currently playing out in the country. The states of North Dakota and Texas have just passed laws restricting abortion, which, like our initiative, fly in the face of Supreme Court precedent. Those lawmakers do not accept that abortion rights were settled forever by Roe v. Wade. Should they be prevented from testing that belief?
Well-funded powerbrokers now seek to prevent our initiative from being placed on the ballot. If they succeed, it will be a denial of the sovereign rights of the citizens to express a desire as to how they shall be governed. By… for… and of the People? Or the Money?
We do understand that this ordinance, if passed, may be struck down — for now. Then what is the purpose? The Declaration of Independence states: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Passage of this ordinance would signal a withdrawal of consent by the governed to a system that they have concluded is corrupt and does not serve them.
Ted Hensold is chairman of Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution.