PERSPECTIVE: Survey on constitutional amendment issue polarized by party

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Do you support a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations and other artificial entities do not have constitutional rights, that money is not speech and that campaign spending should be regulated?

In recent weeks, local members of Move to Amend have asked midterm-election candidates about their position on this issue.

The amendment we’re advocating would clarify that political donations are not a protected First Amendment right. It would also prevent corporations from claiming constitutional rights intended for people, which gives them power over citizens’ interests in the courtroom. Asking candidates to take a stand on this issue helps voters choose.

To pass a constitutional amendment, we need Congress and our state legislators on board, so we started with candidates for those offices.

We also need regional representation. More than 600 cities, counties and states have lent support by passing resolutions for an amendment. Since Jefferson County and Port Townsend were among them, we included our commissioner candidates, too.

All candidates were sent a questionnaire and questioned at community forums.

WHAT THEY SAID

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, returned the questionnaire and pledged active support for the amendment, noting that he had cosigned bills to overturn Citizens United and require disclosure. At a candidate forum, he stated, “What’s at stake is our democracy.” His opponent Martin McClendon, R-Gig Harbor, who didn’t return the questionnaire, asked why this was an issue now. He agreed that campaign reform is desirable, but he didn’t support an amendment that could achieve this.

State Rep. Kevin Van de Wege, D-Sequim, who is running unopposed for state representative, Position 1, returned the questionnaire, pledging support for the amendment. He won’t promote it unless Congress initiates an amendment process, but once this happens, he “will become a loud leader” for ratification by Washington state.

Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, incumbent state representative, Position 2, returned the questionnaire pledging to support the amendment to the extent that he can at the state level. At a forum, he claimed the framers of the Constitution never intended corporations to have personhood rights or unlimited spending rights to influence politics. Challenger Thomas Greisamer, R-Moclips, didn’t return the questionnaire, but he told a forum audience that the Citizens United decision had hurt some and helped others. He opposed changing the Constitution.

In Jefferson County, county commissioner District 3 candidate Dan Toepper of Port Ludlow (no party preference stated) did not return the questionnaire. At a forum, he called it a divisive issue not relevant to local concerns. Kathleen Kler, D-Quilcene, spoke about the impact of corporate influence on everyone and vowed to promote the amendment.

We are sad to see political parties so polarized on this issue. We all pay a price when special interests have more influence over public policy than voters do. It affects every important issue we face. It creates apathy in our electorate. And it won’t be fixed until people demand it.

(Judy D’Amore of Port Townsend is a member of the Jefferson County affiliate of Move to Amend Coalition. She has been active in the community since 1979.)

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