CityViews: New York Must Lead the Nation Toward a Constitutional Amendment on Money in Politics

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Junius Brutus Stearns, painter

When Congress is unable or unwilling to propose a needed amendment, the people have the option of an Article V convention. That gives the people a chance to deal with the aftershocks of badly decided Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, the author argues.

New York, let’s clean up New York. Some of our fellow citizens are too young or too new to our fair state, but anyone who was around in the 1970s and 1980s remembers how dirty New York City was. I’m talking about trash. To battle the mounting piles of garbage, the city put out a public service announcement asking the people of Manhattan to keep things clean. Garbage, you don’t have to put up with it anymore, was part of the slogan.

The people did a great job pitching in to keep the city clean and I would say the amount of trash you see on the street today is nothing compared to what it was when I was a kid. Yet something still stinks in New York and it’s not coming from the subway grates. The smell I’m talking about arises from political corruption. It’s the smell of our deteriorating Republic.

For decades now, corruption has proliferated in our capitals of Albany and D.C. Backroom deals, closed-door meetings with real estate lobbies, Wall Street, big banks and other special interests, leaving the citizens of New York out of the picture. The people are being pushed aside while corporations, Super-PACs, and dark money groups spend unlimited amounts in what can only be considered as legalized bribery, to buy influence and to sway legislation in their favor. It’s all been the regular order of things in Albany and on Capitol Hill.

This past November, New Yorkers began to take action to fight the dysfunction and corruption in Albany and D.C. by replacing legislators they knew were no longer serving the needs of the people. Grassroots groups like True Blue NY, Long Island Activists, Work Families Party and New York chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America hit the streets to win seats for candidates that would work for the people and not special interests or corporations. This is not to say that every politician is corrupt, far from it. It’s the system that is corrupt and the well-intentioned go to Albany and D.C. to serve their constituents, but when the system doesn’t function properly everyone suffers from the dysfunction and the corruption. Well not everyone, there are some that it serves quite well.

New Yorkers are looking for important and needed reforms in Albany and they want the dysfunction to stop. New York needs and wants more transparency, an open government beholden to the constituency, and not to special interests and big money. With new leadership in the Senate under Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and a slew of new senators who ran with promises to fight corruption and promote campaign finance reform, we expect to see them make those changes happen, and soon.

Some important and needed reforms are rule changes in the Senate, such as previewing the budget in advance to a vote, public and open hearings when legislation is in committee, and stronger ethics and sexual harassment accountability. We need electoral reforms, and closing the LLC loophole, as proposed by Fair Elections NY. Something New Yorkers are promised every elections cycle for over a decade now, though have yet to see that piece of low hanging fruit picked.

All these reforms are integral to providing for a stronger and better functioning state legislature. It is very likely New Yorkers, after some effort and working with state legislators, will see the reforms they want and need in Albany. However, to keep and help safeguard them, and our elections, from Super-PACs, dark money groups, and other outside influences, we will need to turn our attention to D.C. to deal with the source of this systemic corruption in our Federal government. Or we will end up like Montana, where a 100 years of strict campaign laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Many Americans feel that Congress is corrupt, they know that we need to do something about it, yet they don’t know what they can do. This is your public service announcement New York. We need to fight corruption at every level, from Albany all the way up to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.  If we can restore integrity to our state government we can do the same at the Federal level as well.

How do we do this? Leading this fight is a grassroots group Wolf-PAC New York. Their legislative solution to campaign corruption in Albany is the Free and Fair Elections Resolution. It calls for an Article V convention, limited to the issue of Campaign Finance Reform and dealing with the effects of decisions like Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. When Congress is unable or unwilling to propose a needed amendment, the people have the option of a convention, where through the states we can propose an amendment to our U.S. Constitution. It will be New York and the other states’ chance to deal with the aftershocks of badly decided Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission. These decisions have allowed for the rise of corporate lobbies, Super-PACs, dark money groups, and the billionaire donor class, which include the likes of, but not limited to, the Koch Brothers and the Mercer family who now control our government.

When the people demand change it can happen, even when their government has stopped listening to them and only cares about those who can pay to play. Passing the Free and Fair Elections Resolution will send a message to Congress, that we are ready for the cleanup. And if they won’t act, we will. Alexander Hamilton himself wrote in Federalist 85 praising the convention option in response to a non-responsive Congress.

Corruption, you don’t have to put up with it any more.

New York, let’s clean up New York and D.C. Come out to support and demand that Albany pass the Free and Fair Elections Resolution because the smell of corruption is really becoming unbearable.


Joseph Sackman is the national coordinator for Wolf-PAC NY.

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