In another busy day for election-related bills in Olympia, a liberal Seattle senator’s proposal to urge Congress to authorize a U.S. constitutional amendment got a hearing Tuesday in the state Senate Government Operations Committee. Most who spoke were urging passage of Senate Joint Memorial 8002, which is Sen. Adam Kline‘s long-shot bid to get Congress to start a years-long process that could close a loophole in U.S. campaign finance law by sending a constitutional amendment out to the states.
It issue is the 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case known as Citizens United, which ended limits on third-party groups’ ability to spend money independently on campaigns to influence elections. Kline and others told the committee that Citizens United unleashed a political advertising barrage that is drowning out the voices – and free speech – of ordinary citizens in presidential and other federal races such as Congress.
There was support from WashPIRG, a coalition formed around WA-Amend’s campaign to support the constitutional amendment, Washington Public Campaigns, and also from League of Women Voters groups and individuals from several communities. Former state representative Seth Armstrong, a Seattle Democrat, said constitutional amendments have been used seven times to reverse court rulings.
The hearing video is here.
Kline said his proposal would apply to the use of both corporate and union funds in campaigns – a bid he said was needed in order to get anything passed through Congress as it is split today.
“This is to allow the voice of the people – left-right-middle, that’s not the point – to be heard. … We need our country back,’’ Kline said.
The hearing on SJR 8002 came as the Senate also heard bills on allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote when getting a driver’s license. Another Senate bill touted by initiative promoter
Tim Eyman would prevent cities or counties from blocking citizen petitions seeking ballot measures, and a bill from Republican Sen. Randi Becker of Eatonville would expand the number of ballot drop boxes in the 39 counties – including university campuses – during the state’s vote-by-mail elections.
Student groups testified in favor of both the “Motor Voter” option for teen registration and the extra drop boxes, especially on campuses. But elections officials from Kittitas and Franklin counties sounded caution for both proposals. Both election proposals are mirrored in similar bills already slated to move out of committees in the House.
Also in the House, the Government Operations and Elections Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a bill requiring a state primary voter pamphlet in even-numbered years
- at a cost of about $1 million.
Several other House bills are poised to move out of the House committee – as noted here.
But in the Senate, Kline’s bill drew a crowd. He said most inundations of spending have been from anonymous sources donating to groups that don’t have to report their donors’ names after Citizens United. And he took issue with the American Civil Liberties Union over what he called its support for the idea that spending money is equivalent to speech in politics.
“We literally do not have any idea – who it is spending over $1 billion this last six months. It’s one thing to know our country is being bought. There’s a certain cynicism among us the last 20-30 years. Many of us feel that way.It’s another thing not to know who is buying it. That unfortunately is the situation here,” Kline said.
Kline also pointed out a flaw in the argument that limiting money in politics is limiting free speech. “All speech is constitutionally protected. When speech becomes so loud that it drowns out the voices of others then those others’ constitutional rights are being infringed,” he said. “All money is not speech. Some element of that is noise.”
The committee chair, Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn, did not indicate whether she is giving the bill a vote or if she thinks it can pass. But after she asked Kline whether the crowd in the room was from “downtown Seattle” he told her some were “no doubt” from Auburn, too. Some testifying said 10 cities and towns and three counties had passed resolutions in support of the idea.
Whatever the support, Kline’s work is cut out for him and Roach at one point suggested it could be a “10-year project.”
Among those giving support were representatives of the WA-Amend group that has formed locally to push the national campaign for a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United. Activists had presented Kline with petitions last month in Olympia.
Advocates from Jefferson County said the county commission and Port Townsend council had passed resolutions in support of language offered a year ago at the Legislature – saying that money is not speech and that human beings are what are entitled to constitutional rights.