COMMENTARY: As a candidate who used New Mexico’s public campaign financing system in my campaign for Public Regulation Commissioner in 2008, and a member of Santa Fe’s Public Campaign Financing Advisory Committee the following year, I want to applaud those in Las Cruces seeking to implement such a system here, as well as those trying to ‘fix’ the system in Albuquerque and statewide.
There is no doubt that big money has tarnished our elections — turning campaigns into obscene races for cash filled with negative ads, instead of the discussions of goals and visions that could lead to more engaged citizenry and better functioning government.
In my opinion, the system itself should not need to be fixed. It provides equal funding to participating candidates, and matching funds to counter outside interest groups’ (or nonparticipating candidates’) spending. It is an excellent system. However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees, foolishly equating election spending with free speech.
Even if the analogy of money being the same as speech holds, the Supremes have in the past put limits on free speech. In the timeworn example, one can not falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded firehouse — that First Amendment right to free speech is outweighed by the safety concerns of the public at large. Similarly, a reasonable Supreme Court would see the danger to our elections, our government, and society as a whole when they condone the buying of elections by big money interests.
To remedy this, some are waiting for an enlightened Supreme Court. Not me. I think it is time for “We the people” to tell the Supremes they got it wrong — the only way we can. I am supporting a constitutional amendment that will once and for all clearly state that “Money is not speech, and corporations are not people.”
During elections, and at other times, corporations have been using the 14th, Fifth, First, and other amendments to the U.S. Constitution to get away with murder. They hide behind First Amendment rights to lie about their products and activities; they use 14th amendment rights to evade government regulations and fees; and of course, they infuse elections with spending that can’t be regulated or even monitored in some cases.
Fortunately, a few brave congresspeople are stepping up to help everyday citizens in this fight. And it is indeed a fight — it may be the civil rights battle that defines our generation. House Joint Resolution 48 would amend the U.S. Constitution to clarify that money is not speech and corporations are not people. It has only has 11 sponsors so far, but it is exactly what we need to take back our government from the moneyed interests that the founders warned about.
I urge you to call your congressperson and senators today to ask them to cosponsor HJR 48. It is about time that we realize the promise of democracy — one that isn’t bought and paid for by the 1 percent.
Rick Lass is an election reform advocate residing in Mimbres.