SHERIDAN — Wyoming Promise, a recently formed citizens group, has taken the initiative in getting corporate and special interest money out of politics.
University of Wyoming law professor and group chairman Ken Chestek spoke on the topic during a meeting in Sheridan Thursday night. Chestek said the problem is based on two metaphors — that corporations are people and money is speech.
He said the group hopes to get an initiative placed on the November 2018 ballot that would call for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The 2010 ruling declared that laws preventing corporations and unions from using general treasury funds for independent “electioneering communications,” or political advertising, violated the First Amendment.
“The Citizens United case is very explicit, that corporations have political speech rights,” Chestek said.
Wyoming Promise is one facet of a larger movement, The National Citizen Uprising, which is organized through American Promise and has the same goal on a nationwide level.
According to the Wyoming Promise website, 15 percent of Wyoming voters must sign a petition by February 2018 in order to bring the initiative to the ballot. With more than 258,000 votes cast in the 2016 general election, this amounts to 38,818 signatures statewide and 2,205 in Sheridan County.
Chestek said 19 other states have already called on Congress to propose an amendment to overturn Citizens United either through citizens’ initiatives or legislative action. This, he said, is half the number of states required to ratify a constitutional amendment.
“There’s a momentum building,” Chestek said. “In the seven years since 2010… 19 states have done this and many more are working on it and we’re working on it, too.”
The initiative also calls for a convention of the 50 states with the purpose of proposing the amendment in the event Congress fails to do so.
Retired Sheridan College instructor Dr. Jackie Canterbury said she signed the petition Thursday evening. She said she agrees there’s too much corporate money in politics.
Canterbury said one example of this is political watchdog nonprofit MapLight’s list of U.S. senators who received campaign contributions from insurance and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. Such contributions, she said, can lead to members of Congress not listening to their constituents on issues like health care.
“That’s a really concrete example of why we need to get money out of politics,” Canterbury said.
This amendment is just the first step, though. Chestek said it’s probably a 10-year process to get corporate money out of politics.
“It’s a necessary step, it’s the essential first step,” Chestek said. “…It’ll take years to get all the way across the finish line, but if we don’t start we’re never going to get anywhere.”