Organizations debate best way to take money out of politics


Douglas Harding

Representatives from Wolf-Pac, WV ACLU and WV Center on Budget and Policy debated money in politics at Drinko Library.

Tri-State Indivisible sponsored a debate Monday, with representatives from Wolf- Pac, the American Civil Liberties Union and West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy discussing removing money from politics.

“We want to propose an amendment to end the corrupting influence of money in politics and restore free and fair elections,” Samuel Fieldman, national counsel for Wolf- Pac, said.

Fieldman said the issue of the corrupting influence of money in politics is one which has enormous cross partisan support unlike any other convention efforts in the country.

“Think about the issue that’s most important to you,” Fieldman said. “Money in politics is the reason you’re not seeing progress on that issue. There is no other issue that brings the country together in this way.”

In order for Congress to propose a convention using Article V of the U.S. Constitution, 34 states must call for a convention on a specific issue. The issue would then be debated and voted on by delegates from each state, requiring a minimum of 38 positive votes to be ratified.

Vermont, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island have passed a resolution calling for a state convention regarding money in politics.

“I’m unconvinced about the states’ ability to control the agenda of the convention,” Seth Distefano, outreach director of WV Center on Budget and Policy, said.

Distefano said he is concerned about the corrupting influence of money in politics, but he feels the Constitution provides a more secure way to limit that influence.

Distefano said to avoid the possibility of a runaway or creeping convention, in which delegates could act against the will of their states’ constituents to propose improper regulations, concerned citizens should become politically active in other ways to help make desired changes.

“There are so many things we just don’t know and that aren’t outlined about the convention,” Distefano said. “There’s just so much not spelled out about this in the Constitution.”

Eli Baumwell, policy director of the WV ACLU, said he feels there are too many risks associated with the idea of having a constitutional convention.

“We have to be careful with fundamentally changing the Constitution,” Baumwell said. “We have to be careful with anything that includes so many of our personal rights.”

Baumwell said states must be careful when imposing regulations on large corporations because those regulations also affect smaller organizations and non-profits, such as the ACLU.

“In truth, we should have done something about money in politics a long time ago,” Baumwell said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s time to hit the red (emergency) button now.”

Baumwell said informed, passionate and politically active citizens now are needed more than ever.

“Every group genuinely working to get money out of politics and embedded in these trenches like us has decided that this is absolutely the best way to go about it,” Richard Saffle, WV legislative director of Wolf- Pac, said.

Saffle said opponents of a constitutional convention argue there is a need to pressure Congress to propose this amendment on their own. However, he said he believes an Article V convention is precisely the way to pressure Congress into doing so and the way to achieve change.

Organizations such as Common Cause have been working on fixing money in politics for over 50 years Saffle said, but he does not feel like they are the experts on this issue or on Article V conventions. Common Cause has not disclosed their donors since 2013, Saffle said.

“The ACLU has been heroic in protecting our civil liberties and constitutional rights, and we’re all better off for it,” Saffle said.

The organization also has a national board of directors who set their official policy, and members are forced to defend this position whether they agree with it or not, he said.

“The ACLU also does not disclose their donors, which is somewhat understandable, but it also means they sacrifice some credibility especially on issues which could serve to upset their donors,” Saffle said.

Arguments used against the idea of a constitutional convention to get money out politics are aimed at instilling fear in citizens as opposed to debating the substance of the issue, he said.

“Some people say they are afraid of what will happen to our country if there is a constitutional convention,” Saffle said. “But I am infinitely more afraid of what will happen to us if we continue to cower in fear to inaction instead of leading with courage to demand our constitutional rights and a government dependent upon the people alone.”

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected].