Get Money out of Maryland and Pass the Democracy Amendment Resolution

The Get Money Out Maryland team lobbies for an Article V convention. Photo by Get Money Out Maryland

I urge all readers to tell Mike Busch, Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, that you support the Democracy Amendment Resolution.

There is a grave crisis in our democracy caused by big money in politics and attendant issues, including voter suppression. Because the Supreme Court has held that corporations have unlimited First Amendment rights to spend money to influence elections, a Constitutional Amendment is absolutely necessary. The Court will not reverse itself for decades, if ever. But the Congress is profoundly corrupted by money in politics and will not even vote on amendment proposals. It needs the prodding from the People and the state legislatures to take this issue seriously.

The Democracy Amendment Resolution, SJ 7/HJ 11, is a joint resolution in the General Assembly that applies to the Congress to call for an amendment convention when two-thirds of the states have requested such a convention. The resolution proposes an amendment or amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding any of these specific and limited purposes: (1) affirming every citizen’s individual right to vote; (2) reserving constitutional rights to natural persons; and/or (3) authorizing the regulation of contributions and expenditures intended to influence elections.

Article V of the Constitution states that Congress may propose amendments to the Constitution with votes of two-thirds of both houses. States can also apply to Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments, with application of two-thirds of the states. Amendments in either case must be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by conventions in three-fourths of the states “as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.”

All amendments to the Constitution to date have been as a result of amendments being proposed by Congress rather than a convention upon application by the states. However, states have successfully used convention call campaigns on several instances to stimulate Congress to propose popular amendments.

The Joint Resolution proposed this year is not new.  Similar resolutions have been proposed over the past three years.  Last year, SJ4 of 2017 received a hearing in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, but no further action was taken. Its cross file, HJ6 of 2017 received a hearing in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, but no further action was taken.

SJ2 of 2015 passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 18, but was gutted in the House Rules Committee. The Senate refused to concur with the House amendment, and the House declined to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences.

Fear-based opposition has held up any passage of a resolution, because many believe that the convention could go off topic. These qualms are usually expressed by liberal organizations which think that right-wing delegates will subvert a convention called to draft a Democracy Amendment and use it to limit personal liberties. Opponents fear that there are no guidelines to govern such a convention, and that once it is called, delegates will be able to consider any amendment to the Constitution that they wish.

This “runaway convention” concern is not justified. The Constitution in Article V allows a convention of states to propose amendments.  The Department of Justice in 1987 wrote that the convention can be limited.  And to address this concern, the Democracy Amendment Resolution specifically states that “Delegates to the convention from Maryland may not propose or support amendments that do not have the primary goals of addressing only the specific and limited purposes stated above.“ In addition, a number of states have already passed resolutions, or are considering them, specifically to address the issues brought about by Citizens United.

State and national organizations have been spreading fear memes to our delegates since the Democracy Amendment Resolution passed the Maryland Senate in 2015.  These same organizations say that they favor an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Of course, winning a Constitutional Amendment designed to limit the malignant power of billionaires and multi-national corporations will require a massive grassroots effort of millions of people. Yet the naysayers start with the proposition that the people are going to lose if a convention is called.

In this year’s General Assembly Session, the Democracy Amendment Resolution has reached a 53% Senate majority for the first time with 25 co-sponsors. House co-sponsors total 69, just two short of a majority.

For the fourth year, we at Get Money Out are asking Speaker Busch to call a vote on the House floor. The big debate will be the dozen delegates who have runaway convention fears, brought on by organizations that do not believe in using the Article V approach.  The leaders of the Rules Committee in the House will not allow the Committee to vote on this.

Therefore, I am urging all to tell the Speaker that you support the Democracy Amendment Resolution. Call 410-841-3800.

Also sign our petition joining nearly 5,000 people in favor of this resolution. It goes to your delegation directly.

The author, Renaud Brown

The author, Renaud Brown, is co-webmaster of Maryland United for Peace and Justice, which aims to bring together organizations and individuals from across Maryland to build relationships and make meaningful progress towards peace and justice. He is also a member of Get Money Out Maryland.

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