Guest Commentary: We the People Can Reverse the Erosion of Democracy

By Doug Miller

As the moonscape of our political system turns into something out of dystopian science fiction, we must remember that We the People can reverse the erosion of democracy. And we don’t have to rely on compromised congressmen to do it.

In an episode of the original “Star Trek” series, Captain Kirk and crew find a planet that parallels Earth, except that this world was devastated in its 20th Century by a bacteriological war in which Chinese communists drove American forces into hiding. The primitive descendants of the two factions — the Yangs (Yankees) and the Cohms (Communists) — continue to make war on one another.

Kirk discovers that the Yangs preserve the Constitution of the United States as a holy relic, and allow only their chiefs to look upon it. Kirk shocks them by declaring “This was not written for chiefs.”

The Constitution, he tells them, “was not written for the chiefs, or the kings, or the warriors, or the rich, or the powerful, but for all the people.” Including the Cohms.

The words of this most revered document, Kirk proclaims, “must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing.”

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Doug Miller

As Americans on this Earth mark the 230th anniversary of the Constitution, it would seem that our chiefs could stand such a reminder.

The promise of equal protection under law rings hollow as elected officials do the bidding of the wealthy individuals, corporations and industry groups that fill their campaign coffers. The U.S. Supreme Court has, in a series of catastrophic rulings, rendered Congress and the states virtually powerless to regulate the flow of money poisoning our system of government, giving moneyed interests undue influence to the detriment of most citizens.

Scholars from Princeton and Northwestern universities studying 20 years worth of data have determined that the likelihood of a given policy becoming law has little to do with its popularity among voters, and has everything to do with whether that policy is supported by high-income households and industry lobbying groups. This state of affairs is rapidly growing worse under the high court’s logically contorted assertion that regulating campaign finance is somehow an impingement on First Amendment rights.

The people are far from powerless, but we can only correct this injustice — which forms the root of many injustices, including gerrymandering, mass incarceration and environmental degradation — with a constitutional amendment that reserves constitutional political rights to human beings (and excludes artificial entities such as corporations) and affirms the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money for political purposes.

In Congress and in statehouses across the nation, activists are pursuing this 28th Amendment. Here in Maryland, a growing band of volunteers has been working at the state level to employ a little-known (and often misunderstood) provision of Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Article V spells out the two avenues through which the Constitution can be amended. One way, of course, is that Congress proposes an amendment, which then goes to all the state legislatures. If three-fourths of them approve, the amendment is ratified.

Article V also establishes another path: a convention of state delegates to draft and propose an amendment. Should the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (currently 34) call for such a gathering to address a specific issue, Congress must convene it. An amendment proposed by this convention must, just like any proposed by Congress, win approval from three-fourths of the states (38) to be ratified.

An amendment convention has never actually occurred, but it is worth noting that Congress has proposed amendments that ultimately were ratified — including the one that repealed Prohibition — because of pressure applied by citizen movements pursuing conventions. One such movement came within one state of triggering a convention before Congress proposed the 17th Amendment, which requires that U.S. senators be elected directly by voters of their respective states, instead of being appointed by state legislatures.

Get Money Out–Maryland (getmoneyoutmd.org) has been working to add our state to the five that have already called for an amendment convention aimed at affirming the power of our individual votes and eradicating the “corporations are people, money equals speech” doctrine. Our all-volunteer organization has, through lots of shoe-leather politics, built support within the General Assembly, and we have high hopes of finally winning approval of the Democracy Amendment Resolution in the 2018 session.

If Congress cannot — or will not — take up the task, it’s up to We the People to rescue American democracy from those who have seized it for personal gain.

Doug Miller serves on the board of Get Money Out–Maryland.

12 comments

  • So, Doug, are you also opposed to unions being able to donate to political parties, either financially or in-kind by urging members to support (with their time or money) a particular candidate or party ?? Or do you only want corporate money out of politics and union money or special interest groups such as environmental organizations money is okay ?

    • I do agree that campaign contributions from labor unions and interest groups of any political stripe ought to be just as subject to regulation as those from corporations. The reason for my emphasis on the corporate side is that labor’s power to wield influence pales in comparison to that of multinational corporations.

      • Not to be too cynical, but could it also be because political donations from both PACs & Individuals are split 50/50 between Dems and Repubs from Businesses so Dems have no advantage in this category ?
        But from Labor, 88% of the donations go to Democrats.
        From “Ideological” and “Other” donors, Democrats receive 67% and 59% respectively.
        So while Business does give the most overall in the total dollar amount, it is the only category in which Democrats do not come out ahead but are equal, so no skin off Dems teeth to limit Business donations, because they are far ahead in donations from the other categories.
        My source was the website opensecrets.org.

  • STOP ALL CORRUPTING MONEY, from Corporations, Wealthy Special Interests and Unions!

  • And you don’t think such a convention is more likely to be dominated by the Koch brothers than by Common Cause-type- groups? Have you looked at who controls politics in the States and who is likely to control appointment of delegates to such a convention? I wonder why you assume that, once convened, such a convention would limit itself to the agenda you propose. Remember that the 1787 Constitution is the result of a “runaway convention” that was supposed to be limited to fixes to the Articles of Confederation.

    • I could only hope it was dominated by the Koch Brothers over Common Cause. (BTW, the Koch brothers, last I checked, are staunch Libertarians. And also didn’t support Trump’s campaign.) And yet the Kochs have employed thousands of people and created billions of dollars of value to families and to the country.

    • The writing of our Constitution in 1787 was not a “runaway” anything. The convention to amend the Articles of Confederation failed because one state did NOT send delegates, and the Articles required unanimous agreement for Amendments. NO AMENDMENT PROCESS WAS POSSIBLE.

      If you are concerned about a “runaway convention” then you should be working AGAINST the Balanced Budget Amendment, which currently has 27 States demanding a convention. Or, you should be working AGAINST the Convention of the States group, which has 12 States demanding fiscal constraints (2/3 vote of Congress to increase taxes) and term limits for every Federal office.

      The movement to overrule Citizens United has just 5 States demanding a convention to propose the Amendment, VT, CA, NJ, IL and RI. We are aiming to pressure the Congress to write their own Amendment (as more than half of the current 27 Amendments originally began, with State Legislatures demanding action). Then, if the Congress proves unwilling or unable to pass an Amendment (which it most certainly seems to be unwilling and unable to do) then the States will still be able to restore our democracy, even if Congress will not.

      How else do you propose to end the unfettered, unlimited, undisclosed billions buying our politicians, our policies and our democratic republic?

      • I am mystified as to how people can categorically state that special interest money buys elections. Are you familiar with the Democrat race in CD8 in which both Kathleen Matthews and David Trone out spent by many millions of dollars Jamie Raskin who won ? And are you familiar with the Republican presidential race in which Jeb Bush raised many millions of dollars and yet Donald Trump beat him and 15 other challengers and did so spending less money ? Or, of course, the results of the general election in which Hillary lost and far outspent Trump ? Money does NOT guarantee winning an election. Where the money corrupts the process is after the election and the special interests LOBBY the politicians. Now if you can figure out a solution for that, we might have something.

  • The sole reason a convention has never been called despite the fact the states have submitted sufficient applications to cause 11 convention calls is because there are no rules in Congress to do so. See: http://www.foavc.org/reference/file96.pdf and http://www.foavc.org/Polis/Numeric.pdf .

  • For information refuting the misrepresentations regarding the convening of an Article V Convention, please visit: http://singlesubjectamendment.com/issues-regarding-an-article-v-convention-3.

  • In 1776, fifty-six founders of this nation dared to sign the Declaration of Independence. In doing so they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, committing treason as they did so. They weren’t perfect men but the Declaration was near perfect. Today the internet is laced with anonymous comments that are often just nonsense, lies or half-truths. I guess I’m old fashioned, but whenever I see anonymous comments I immediately dismiss them. The commitment to their words is as suspect as their identities. In fact, today many “commenters” on Facebook and other media are merely bots created by Russian or other entities attempting to corrupt our public discourse.

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