Assemblyman Gatto Calls For Constitutional Convention

Assm. Mike Gatto speaks on the floor of the // Credit: asmdc.org Assm. Mike Gatto speaks at the State Capitol // Credit: asmdc.org[/caption]

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Ca) has introduced what could prove to be a ‘historic’ bill. If passed, AJR1 will:

“…constitute an application to the United States Congress to call a constitutional convention pursuant to Article V of the United States Constitution for the sole purpose of proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that would limit corporate personhood for purposes of campaign finance and political speech and would further declare that money does not constitute speech and may be democratically limited.”

While other movements have come close to getting an Article V convention, they’ve always either fallen just short or gained enough momentum to pressure Congress into proposing the amendment themselves.

Gatto’s amendment aims to fix the problem of money in politics by limiting the amount any entity can contribute to a candidate.

Since Citizens United affirmed that corporations, unions, and associations can’t be limited in their political contributions, there has been a steady wave of money flooding into Washington. The top donor in California was the The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, a transnational trade union. They donated $1.7 million to candidates in 2012.

In addition to conflicts of interest, the influence of money in politics also reduces the time representatives have to govern. An anonymous congressional staffer told the Hill that representatives spend 25-50 percent of their time fundraising.

Ending corporate personhood, as Gatto’s amendment would, can significantly curb the influence of these organizations by allowing limits to be placed on them.  If they are not considered people, their free speech rights can be limited. At least, when it comes to political contributions.

Article V gives two ways to amend the constitution: By a vote of two thirds of both houses or by having two thirds of the states call for a constitutional convention.

Assemblyman Gatto adds:

“I’ve always believed that the Founding Fathers included Article V in the Federal Constitution to ensure that the people have a mechanism for forcing Congress to act when it opts to ignore an issue of public salience. Most people I know have serious problems with the notion that ‘corporations are people’ and that ‘money is speech.’”

However, despite the clear language in the constitution, there are those who are against a constitutional convention.

Organizations such as The Heritage Foundation are concerned that it would quickly turn into a “run away convention” with delegates proposing amendments unrelated to the issue of money in politics. Gatto responded to those criticisms by stating that “it’s a little odd to say, ‘the people have this power, but we’re worried they’ll actually exercise it.”

The bill was ordered to the inactive file by Gatto on May 20.

“Since this will be a historic movement on a very important topic, we want to make sure that the bill is just right,” he said. “My staff and I moved it to the Inactive File so that we can iron out all of the wrinkles before moving ahead. We will proceed as soon as we feel as though it is perfect, and is something that 33 other states can feel comfortable adopting.”

There are currently a number of resolutions in various stages, including H.3190 and S.1727 in Massachusetts, which will be voted on this week.

It is estimated that $6 billion was spent in the 2012 elections. For the first time in history, both presidential candidates rejected federal campaign financing.