How to Eradicate Pay-to-Play in Maryland
Big and small, cats and dogs, wizards and muggles. It’s easy to point to opposites in our surroundings. Contrast is one of the primary ideas first introduced in Pre-K, and a common strategy used by immersive language teachers. Many an author has penned their take on opposites with discussions of how our two political parties’ agendas are increasingly at odds. Commence the unified eye-roll for such examinations of the “partisan divide.”
The story that hasn’t been told is how frequently the overwhelming majority of Americans are not divided but instead united on an issue, yet are still ignored. Here are only a few examples of the many topics that large numbers of Americans agree on:
- According to a 2015 poll, 86% of voters want healthy school lunches provided to our children, but change comes far too slowly as lawmakers heed the potato lobby instead.
- 70% of Americans surveyed support bail reform, yet bail bond titans paid Democratic Senators Joseph Vallario and Robert Zirkin tens of thousands of dollars each to kill the proposed bills in MD.
- According to a recent New York Times poll, 84% of Americans believe that money has too much influence in campaigns. Yet year after year large campaign donations have only increased, culminating in the most expensive House race in history this past Tuesday.
Majorities this large encompass large swaths of the nation, cutting across class, gender, location, and any other dividing factor that political scientists can conjure up. Why, then, can we not count on Congress to pass laws reflecting our interests? How did corporate donations come to mean so much? The Citizens United v FEC ruling in 2010 proclaimed that corporations have a voice, unlimited spending power, and after the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling in 2013, it seems that they can even have a religion. Boundless corporate spending on campaigns is allowed via PACs, while single donor spending is limited. Money talks, and the corporate donors contribute more. What can you do when you are not a corporate donor? What can you do when you are merely a regular US citizen, like me?
Luckily for us, three Maryland organizations are looking to change this money-driven atmosphere and ensure that the country branded “by the people and for the people” actually reflects the needs and desires of its populace, not its major corporate donors.
Get Money out of Maryland (GMOM) is looking for change at the source: by proposing an amendment to the US Constitution! Using the provisions of the Article V Amendment of the Constitution, GMOM and National Affiliate Wolfpac are proposing the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The proposed amendment denies corporations the unethical powers granted to them in the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby rulings, and asserts that “only natural persons have rights, election spending can be curbed and regulated, and every citizen has the right to vote and have their vote counted.”
The Amendments Convention is a slow process that would require 34 states proposing the exact same amendment; if Maryland joins this effort, we would be only the sixth state following Vermont, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Once the same amendment has been proposed by 34 states, it must then be ratified by 3/4 of the two-chambered legislatures of each state in order to pass. This amounts to 38 states and 76 chambers voting “yes” to the proposed amendment before it passes. It is indeed a slow process, but a worthwhile one.
Common Cause is a national lobbying organization that promotes public election fund initiatives, successfully assisting in creating public donor pools in both Howard and Montgomery Counties. This means that the county council and county executive candidates can choose to run a campaign completely devoid of big donor PAC or LLC funds. Common Cause also actively lobbies against other volunteer groups’ initiatives that they disagree with, including the Article V efforts being fought for by GMOM.
Represent.Maryland is part of a national volunteer group working with state legislators to bring changes to this funding structure via the ballot. The goal in Maryland is not to use the referendum sought by other states, but instead to have state legislators propose The Anti-Corruption Act as a resolution item locally, and eventually as a statewide law. This Anti-Corruption Act would include “provisions to end legal bribery, dark money and gerrymandering while enacting public election funds,” says chapter leader Cristi Demnowicz. The group is very close to finalizing this anti-corruption resolution in Baltimore City and is working through group chapters in several counties, including Anne Arundel, to bring similar resolutions for official consideration.
The importance of the group’s multi-jurisdictional approach to creating this law lies in the individual and transparent engagement of local elected officials in the process of creating the resolution for their district. South Dakota citizens succeeded independently in passing a statewide Anti-Corruption Act via referendum in November. This means that the citizens of South Dakota were able to bring to ballot the referendum item without first needing approval from the legislators. However, since South Dakotan elected officials didn’t write the referendum themselves, they worked hard to block it, essentially retaliating against the citizens. They eventually went to the extreme of calling for a state of emergency in order to kill the referendum.
All three organizations rely on and seek volunteer support. Represent.Maryland and GMOM are 100% volunteer funded and operated. GMOM’s volunteers organize through weekly calls, petitions, meetings with members of Congress, and film and educational events, while volunteers with Represent.Maryland engage in grassroots canvassing, group presentations to local organizations, and staffing presence at festivals and events.
Common Cause is a 501(c)4 with a small paid staff that encourages volunteers to follow them on social media for “opportunities to meet up, volunteer and participate in a wide variety of fun activities to help improve our democracy in Maryland,” according to Legal Policy Director, Damon Effingham.
All three organizations emphasize their non-partisan stance and their desire for the will of the people to be heard. Represent.Maryland’s sister organization, Represent.Us, has chapters with ties to both progressive organizations and the Tea Party. Wolf-Pac, the sister organization of GMOM, was founded only six years ago by YouTube news organization The Young Turks. The founding of Wolfpac and the other organizations could not have been more imperative. GMOM Vice President Susan Ogden notes, “As big money erodes our democracy, efforts to impede access to the polls are also growing.” Our politicians are being bought with large donations, our votes are being pigeonholed by inappropriately drawn districts, and now new voter ID bills work to impede our ability to cast a ballot at all. If you feel disillusioned by this system, find and join a group working for you. It is clear the politicians are not.
Get Money Out of Maryland (GMOM)
Join and sign up for updates and actions at www.getmoneyoutmd.org. Simple actions, signing a petition or calling a legislator’s office, are welcome and important. Volunteers can also commit to more actions critical to the movement: in-person lobbying, setting up educational events, joining a rally.
Rebecca Forte is an activist who believes in getting money out of politics. She lives in Severna Park.
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