Pummeled as never before by a barrage of negative advertising, millions of voters fought back Tuesday, endorsing ballot measures in two states and dozens of localities to demand passage of a constitutional amendment restoring sensible limits on political spending.
“Millions of voters in five states sent a message that they are fed up with big money in politics,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “Republican, Democrat, and independent, they agree that money isn’t free speech and that corporations do not live, breathe, or deserve the same constitutional rights enjoyed by ‘we the people.’ Now it’s up to Congress to act.”
In Montana, 75 percent of the voters supported Initiative 1-166. Votes in the Big Sky state were still being counted on Wednesday morning, but the initiative seemed certain to outpoll any statewide candidate. I-166, the Stand with Montanans measure, declares that in Montana corporations are not people; it also directs all elected officials to support a constitutional amendment to create a level playing field in campaign spending.
In Colorado, voters supported Amendment 65 — 73 percent to 27 percent. That measure instructs the state’s congressional delegation to propose and support a Constitutional amendment allowing Congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending and permitting all citizens, regardless of wealth, to express their views on a level playing field.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to back away from its 2010 Citizens United decision and threw out a 100-year old Montana law barring corporate spending in state elections. The ruling allowed campaigns and outside groups to shatter state campaign spending records – more than $25 million was spent on a single U.S. Senate race and another $11-plus million went into statehouse contests — and sparked voter support for I-166. Montanans also registered their disapproval of recent scandals involving American Tradition Partnership, an out-of-state political organization which brought suit against the state’s ban on corporate political spending and the limit on individual campaign contributions.
On the east coast, voters in more than 120 cities and towns scattered across Massachusetts backed ballot measures that also were part of Common Cause’s Amend 2012 campaign, instructing their representatives in Washington to support a constitutional amendment on political spending. The combined margin of victory was 78%.
The practice of voter instructions dates back to colonial Boston, and Massachusetts is one of the few states that have formal voter instruction initiatives as part of their constitutions. In America’s early years, non-binding constituent instructions carried such force that two future presidents — John Quincy Adams and John Tyler — resigned from the Senate when their personal views conflicted with instructions they had received.
“The fact that voters in red Montana, blue Massachusetts, and purple Colorado all agree that Citizens United has to go tells you something very profound about the American values we all hold in common and how hopelessly out of touch the Supreme Court is with them,” said Derek Cressman, who leads Common Cause’s Amend 2012 effort. “The Rocky Mountain rebellion that began in Montana is spreading, and folks in Washington had better pay attention.”
In Chicago, San Francisco, and smaller cities including Ashland and Eugene, OR, ballot measures calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling also received about three out of every four votes cast. Common Cause worked to place ballot questions in front of more than seven million voters as part of its Amend 2012 campaign.
“Tuesday’s Amend 2012 victories are the leading edge of a national wave of support for getting control of political spending,” Cressman said. “We’re already exploring potential pro-amendment ballot campaigns during 2014 in Arkansas, Maine and other states and we’re continuing to push state and local governments across the country to pass resolutions in support of an amendment.”