Saturday, February 7, 2015

Big Money in Politics: WAmend Initiative Efforts Begin Again

Above: President Andrew Jackson says, "Not To Be Used For Buying Elections" - Amend the Constitution

By Janine Unsoeld

A new and improved initiative to get big money out of politics has Washington  Coalition to Amend the Constitution (WAmend) organizers in Olympia motivated, once again, to start the signature collection process. The group had its first public strategy meeting Thursday evening.

The Move to Amend organization seeks to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision which declared in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission that a corporation is a person and unlimited campaign money is free speech. If successful, it would make Washington State the 17th state to ask that Congress pass a 28th Amendment to overrule the decision.

Formerly called I-1329, the new initiative is easy to understand, say WAmend organizers. The new initiative language stills needs a number, and is expected to soon be approved by the state Attorney General and Secretary of State.

“The new language is better because it is far shorter – fewer words than the old 1329, by more than half. Our aim in penning this new version is to minimize, or avoid altogether, language which could be misinterpreted, polarizing or partisan. The new language takes into consideration language which has been successfully passed in over one dozen states,” says Michael Savoca, acting chair of the Olympia Chapter of WAmend.

“We endeavored to craft language that would unite people on both the left and the right,” says Savoca, who participated in the initiative’s rewrite, a process that took WAmend steering committee organizers about three months.

Savoca intends to hold monthly meetings and coordinate volunteers to collect the estimated 300,000 signatures needed for the initiative’s placement on a statewide ballot.The deadline to collect signatures is at the end of December.
New Initiative Strategy
In early January, Fix Democracy First! and Move On organizers showed the movie Pay to Play, a film about the corrupting influence of money in politics, which successfully galvanized a standing room only crowd at downtown Olympia’s Traditions Fair Trade to begin focused, local organizing efforts.

Activists took time to examine its efforts and discuss lessons learned from the last signature gathering process. The campaign fell short, generating about 175,000 signatures: there was little time for volunteers to gather enough signatures and little to no money to advertise or pay signature gatherers.

Unlike the last initiative, which went straight to the voters, this year’s strategy for success means that this initiative, when certified as having enough signatures, will be submitted to the Legislature at its regular session in January of 2016. 
Signature gathering will take place during all of 2015, from April until December.  Activists are ready to start gathering signatures as soon as possible, says Savoca.

An over-simplified explanation of the new strategy process means that the Legislature can pass it as written, bring it to a vote, or change it.

After the initiative is submitted to the Legislature, the Legislature can take one of three options:
• The Legislature can adopt the initiative as it has been proposed by the public and in this case it becomes law without it a vote by the people;
• The Legislature can reject the proposed initiative or refuse to act on it and in this case the initiative must be placed on the ballot for the state’s next general election;
• The Legislature can approve an amended version of the proposed initiative and this this case both the amended and the original versions of the bill will appear on the state’s next general election ballot.

Above: Jennifer Sprague, Olympia, collected thousands of signatures for last year's initiative to the people to overturn the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling. She's ready to do it again this year!

Efforts United

Olympia WAmend activist Jennifer Sprague collected thousands of signatures for last year’s initiative. She said she found it easy and fun.
“I collected 200 signatures in one afternoon before the Procession of the Species,” said Sprague.
Savoca and Sprague encourage activists to track several pieces of state legislation this session that affect campaign finance reform.
A rally held January 21 at the State Capitol marked the fifth year anniversary of the Citizens United decision. Several statewide organizations participated, including WashPIRG, Fix Democracy First! (formerly Washington Public Campaigns), WAmend, and the Backbone Campaign.
Representative Andy Billig (D-3) spoke to his proposed legislation, SB5153, that would serve to increase transparency in elections by requiring greater reporting of who gives to political campaigns.

Senate Joint Memorial 8002, sponsored by state Senator Bob Hasegawa (D-11), urges Congress to pass a U.S. Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. It has 12 co-sponsors.
Sprague says she asked Representative Sam Hunt (D-22) to co-sponsor the Senate’s companion bill, HJM 4004, and is pleased that he has done so. A first reading of the bill occurred February 2 and was referred, subject to approval, to the State Government Committee. Hunt is chair of the House State Government Committee. HJM 4004 has 34 co-sponsors, including Representative Chris Reykdal (D-22).
Koch Brothers Threaten Washington State Senator Murray
In an email sent yesterday to constituents, Washington State Senator Patty Murray said the Koch Brothers are planning to go after her Democratic seat and spend a billion dollars up front to buy her office.
“You and I now have an opponent in my re-election campaign: the Koch brothers. There wasn't a flashy press conference or anything, but a week ago, at a secretive meeting in California, the Koch brothers announced that they are going to spend nearly $900 million on the next election…and some of that money is going to be heading to Washington State.
“….David and Charles Kochs' names won't actually be on the ballot in Washington state, but their fingerprints are going to be ALL over this election. With close to $1 billion to spend, and only nine incumbent Democratic senators, they're sure to spend millions to try to repeat their 2014 success,” says the Murray email.
Olympia activist Bev Bassett received Murray’s email. Wearing several buttons, saying No Oil Trains, Bassett attended the WAmend meeting Thursday night. She said she worked “half-assed and half-hearted” on last year’s campaign. This time, she will work harder to collect signatures for the initiative.
Citing the interconnectedness of all local issues, Bassett said, “Big money clouds everything. It makes our politicians answerable to corporations, not us….Now, Patty Murray is not perfect, I'll be the first to say, but she is not as bad as, say, Mitch McConnell, who is completely owned by the wealthy interests.
“….So many times in my lifetime I have looked at our political situation and thought, ‘It could not be worse.’ And now, it’s worse. I believe that we no longer have the luxury of prioritizing any issue below the issue of big money in politics. It has already cost us most of our democracy, and what little we have left of it is circling the drain. So, while we still have a Constitutional framework to work with to make positive change, I am working with WAmend,” said Bassett.
Move to Amend organizers will meet monthly, and will host an upcoming event, “Challenging Corporate Rule and Creating Democracy,” with national spokesperson David Cobb on Thursday, February 12, 7:00 p.m., at Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Avenue, in downtown Olympia.
For more information about the Washington State Legislature, specific bills and members, go to
To read more about the difference between an initiative to the Legislature and an initiative to the people, go to:
For more information about the initiative or future Olympia area meetings, contact Michael Savoca at (360) 951-6518 or go to
Previous Little Hollywood articles about WAmend and getting big money out of politics can be found by typing keywords into the search engine at Little Hollywood,