Senate Dems want constitutional convention to control corporate money in politics

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Sen. Paul Pinsky

Photo above: Senator Paul Pinsky

By Rebecca Lessner


Maryland Senate Democrats want to remove the “dark money” from politics by calling a constitutional convention. However, Republican senators fear amending the U.S. Constitution through a convention will “potentially rip-open the First Amendment.”

SJ 2 was heard on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, with 15 Democratic legislators calling for a “Convention of the States,” under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The bill specifically asks for the repeal of the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court.

The Citizens United decision removed limits on the amount of money a corporation can spend on political campaigns; whether disclosed to the public or in the form of “dark money,” funds kept hidden until after voting.

“I dislike the Citizens United Supreme Court opinion, but at the same time as a constitutional lawyer, I do share concerns about being able to limit a convention,” said Senate President Mike Miller. “Once you get three-fourths of the states doing the same thing, I do not think it can be limited.”

Two-thirds of U.S. state legislatures must support a convention to bypass Congress and pass an amendment.

To go into effect, three-fourths of the state legislatures must then approve the amendment, as they must do for any change in the constitution.

“I go along with this, at this point in time, just to send a message to Congress,” said Miller.

Republican Sen. Robert Cassilly, Harford, fears legislators will lose control over the process.

“I would submit to you, that throwing things open to an Article V convention, really avoids that deliberative process” the legislature engages in, said Cassilly. “We throw this to a political body, that none of us know who’s going to be on it, to come up with laws that none of us know in the heat of their political process.”

Getting the attention of Congress

Republican Sen. Michael Hough argued that if legislators want to get the attention of Congress, a convention is the wrong way to do it.

Hough offered an amendment to  strip out references to a convention and make the bill a “simple resolution” to send a letter to Congress.

With the letter, Hough took comfort in the fact that the “ambiguous language on how to amend the Constitution” would be struck, and not sitting on Marylands’ record far into the future. The call for a convention would not expire and would sit on the books for an unlimited number of years unless the legislature revokes it.

The amendment failed with an 18-29 vote.

Sparking a conversation

Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, believes that a letter will not ignite the spark amongst states he is looking for.

“Part of our hope is to move conversation. To have additional states take up this call and hopefully get the attention of Congress, or a new Supreme Court,” said Pinsky.

Pinsky said the constitutional amendment would make clear the corporations do not have the same rights as persons.

“Corporations are not natural people…they do not have the right of free speech. Of taking your money, your bills, and spending it on candidate X or issue Y,” said Pinsky.

In repealing the Citizens United decision, corporations would need to disclose where their funds go and give voters an idea of who is supporting whom politically.

“Can you really limit it in that degree?” asked Cassilly.

“It’s true that we haven’t had an Article V convention since the [1787] convention in Philadelphia took place,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, bill co-sponsor and a constitutional law professor at American University, “But we have had hundreds and hundreds of calls for such a convention.”

“I appreciate everyone’s love and care for our most precious document, but it’s a living document,” made to be amended as the times change, said Raskin.

“We’ve got a runaway Supreme Court right now…a corporation was never understood to have the political free speech and spending rights of the people.”

  • EvanRavitz

    ‘Republican senators fear amending the U.S. Constitution through a convention will “potentially rip-open the First Amendment.”’ Yet Republicans as a whole want to get money out of politics almost as much as Democrats, 78% to 82%. Don’t let those senators speak for you, Republicans! SO many worry warts fear a convention, when a convention is how we the US got started. Jefferson wanted a whole new Constitution every 19 or 20 years!

  • louis dubi

    We can give a Corporation an abortion.. or a heart transplant, or sign it up for Obama care..

    • DCRussell

      I keep seeing people complain about or try to ridicule some concept relating to “persons,” but I can’t find the word in the First Amendment. There is a right of people to assemble to to petition the government. Seems like they are simply trying to scare people into opposing free speech or the right of shareholders from assembling to petition the government. Why the dishonesty about motives?

      • Ob Serdious

        I don’t understand your comment. The purpose of this resolution is to put the power of elections back into the hands of individual human beings. One person/one vote. Neither Unions nor Corporations are are individual people. The artificial creations of the state are just that, and artificial creations should not have Constitutional rights. There is no dishonesty here, Mr. Russell.

        • Cha5678

          Maybe. However the rhetoric has been focused solely against for profit corporations. And the legislative attempts, such as the disclose act, sought to limit for profit corporations.

          • Ob Serdious

            your statement is not true, the original language of this bill referred to “artificially created” entities. Unions are artificial entities.

      • Cha5678

        The first amendment includes media corporations in the free press and long have non-profits been protected from speech codes.
        This is just the radical left trying to decide who does and does not get rights for the express purposes of building leftist political power

  • Yet another horrific idea from our Senate. So, SJ 2 would prohibit Maryland delegates to a Constitutional Convention from proposing amendments “…that do not have the primary goals of addressing the goals listed in [SJ 2]. And these goals are…what exactly? Oh, nothing much, just: “rejecting the doctrine that artificial entities have inalienable political rights,” regulate (somehow) campaign contributions and electioneering expenditure, and restoring free and fair elections in Amierica.That’s all. Just a total re-write of the nations campaign laws in the context of a virtually unalterable form, i.e. the U.S. Constitution, which Raskin concedes has been altered only a few times in the history of the nation. And, when today’s brilliant minds discover too late they made a few errors in the amendment, well, too bad.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that our Delegates’ amendments only have to have the “primary” goal of furthering the goals expressed in the Resolution. It must be ok to have any number of secondary and tertiary goals. Well, never mind. I am certain our Senators found this to be a fun way to blow off some steam and waste a couple of hours in the Statehouse.

    • Ob Serdious

      it seems paul, that you would rather a business that you give money to, lets say any one of the utilities you use, would take your money and lobby against your interests to benefit their bottom line and the pocketbooks of their shareholders. This method pushes you as a voter out of the influential sphere of law writing. Your idea of a waste of time is hilarious. Raskin also said, “the U.S. Constitution is a living document.” It has been modified by every generation since its writing. Amendment are precisely how oversights or cultural changes get fixed. Reading your anti-improvemnt diatribe is the only waste of time here

  • Please get it straight. It is NOT a “constitutional convention.” It’s a Convention of the States. (sometimes called an “Article V Convention”). It is a “convention for proposing amendments” in the words of Article V of the Constitution. But it is NOT a “constitutional convention” for crying out loud.

    There are two reasons the convention could never “runaway” (I can’t believe we’re having this conversation). (1): The Justice Department, Bar Association, Congressional Research Service, and legal scholars agree that the scope is clearly limited to the topic specified by the states who called for it, and (2) only the most wildly popular bipartisan amendment could possibly be ratified by both houses of three fourths (38) of state legislatures, which is the final hurdle for all amendments, however they are proposed.

  • DCRussell

    I note that none of these hypocritical anti-free speech senators want to muzzle unions, only corporations. None of them have ever explained adequately why it is ok for the government and unions to compel members to pay dues to support left-wing candidates, but bad for shareholders to voluntarily invest in companies that support shareholder and business-friendly candidates.

    • Ob Serdious

      Call up any union and ask them if they prefer to spend their money on organizing workers or donation large sums of money to campaigns of candidates and you will find out how ridiculous your statement is. It is time to regulate large donations by ALL artificial entities.

      • Cha5678

        Prefer? The union will say whatever sounds pleasing. However as long as union membership is driven primarily by state mandates of unionizing public workers and certain industries (and keeping up pension farces and increasing the minmum wage to automatically increase union wage contracts), the unions will spend not on their current membership but in buying politicians to serve the Union leadership with more dues

        • Ob Serdious

          so then you agree with me. we should take this kind of money out of the political system. I am not disagreeing with you. I believe this kind of money corrupts politics. we need to get back to one person/one vote. It it not democracy when a corporation takes the profit from the item I have paid for and then turns around to use it to work against my best interests whether that corporation is a business or a union.

          • Cha5678

            We should, but a war on campaign cash will be as leaky and pointless and corrupt as the war on drugs. It’s better to restrict the powers that money can buy by reducing and limiting the political power of any one politician or political body.
            Also – once you pay them that dollar you have no claim whether they use it for or against your interests. That’s why we have various movements buying or boycotting from companies/methods/nations.

  • Christina Karlhoff

    Seems like Senator Hough & those who agree with him need to unlearn a few things about Article V. Don’t they realize that they just publicly displayed their trust in the fox taking good care of the hen house? Talk about not seeing the forest because of all the trees in the way…Or, they know exactly what a State Convention would mean and simply chose to pledge allegiance to the dollar and the status quo…either way i’m equally disappointed in the House Committee decision. So people, let’s not give up that easily…aim for 2016!