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Citizen Lobbyists Push for Constitutional Amendment to Limit Campaign Financing

Progress Update

  • Citizen lobbyists gather for American Promise lobby day

Citizen Lobbyists Push for Constitutional Amendment to Limit Campaign Financing


As the nation continues to careen toward a democracy-defining election in November, 50 or so citizens from around the country gathered in Washington, DC on the last Thursday in September with the expectation that the machinery of democracy will continue to grind on long after the ballots are counted.

Brought together by American Promise for a national lobby day, these citizens met with more than 50 senators and representatives – or their staff members – from 21 states. Their goal: To lay the groundwork for passage of a constitutional amendment that would limit the amount of money in politics.

American Promise, a nonprofit founded in 2016, has a single goal: to have Congress pass and the states ratify a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would permit limitations on foreign and corporate spending in our elections. Its draft amendment, consisting of three short sentences, gives Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign contributions, and to determine whether “artificial entities” such as corporations have the same rights as “natural persons”.

Recognizing that amending the Constitution is one of the most difficult things in government to accomplish, the organization preaches patience, persistence, and perspiration as the key ingredients of a winning strategy. The group has a strong base of support to build on: Americans have consistently and overwhelmingly favored the idea of curtailing the influence of money in politics.

In a 2018 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 77% of the public wants limits on the amount of money an individual or corporation may spend on political campaigns. More recently, in a CBS News poll conducted in August, 86% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans agreed that the influence of money in politics is a major threat to democracy. This finding was consistent with another 2018 survey reported by the Center for Public Integrity. In that survey, 85% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans said they favored a constitutional amendment that would negate the Supreme Court’s 2013 Citizens United decision, which held that corporations, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and other associations could make unlimited independent expenditures in support of or against political candidates. The justices ruled, 5-4, that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting such spending.

The proposed amendment from American Promise would address the Court’s constitutional concerns and restore regulatory authority to Congress and the states.

Yet, because of a huge edge in fundraising in the first years after that decision, Republicans had been reluctant to publicly advocate for turning off the funding spigot while Democrats, naturally, were almost all in favor of doing so. But as Democrats have begun to out-raise and -spend some Republican candidates, the Republican opposition has started to soften. Of course, it’s more than possible that some Democrats will begin to modify their stance on campaign financing as well.

The citizens gathered for American Promise’s  lobby day all seemed to recognize their uphill challenge. In their meetings, they sought only to build the relationships needed in Washington to one day get the votes and find success when the political winds shift in the right direction. Unlike the immediate need to defeat election deniers at the polls on November 8, they understood that theirs is a long-term effort to reshape the political landscape.

What it takes to amend the Constitution

Amending the Constitution starts with approval by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. After that, the language must be ratified by the legislatures in three quarters – or 38 – of the 50 states.

The first 10 amendments required little more than two years for ratification. On the other hand, the push to give women the right to vote took more than 70 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified.

The lobbyists were organized and prepared for difficult conversations. American Promise armed them with talking points and a version of the amendment (the one on its website) designed to appeal to Republican lawmakers with input from its new executive director, Bill Cortese, a former Republican operative and political consultant. Democrats in the House and Senate had already proposed an earlier version of the amendment.

The organization’s plan is two-fold: First, through its lobbying effort, it wants to make it easier for both sides of the aisle to buy in to the need for the amendment and then let the process of negotiation determine the final language. At the same time, it is building support at the state level both to foster support in Congress and to encourage state legislatures to ratify the amendment once it is passed by Congress.

American Promise’s leadership and its members understand that without relentless pressure, even in a stable political environment, the odds for success are long. Add to that challenge the current partisan divisions and more immediate threats to voting rights and election integrity, and it becomes easy to view their efforts as a losing battle in a hostile landscape. Which begs the question, what motivates them to try?

For Jeff Beeman, a retired materials scientist from California, it’s all about doing something about climate change. He has seen the data and concluded that climate change is the existential problem of our time. He does not believe it can be or will be addressed adequately until reasonable limits can be placed on spending in American political campaigns. In his view, the influence of cash in the system has trumped all attempts at effective problem-solving.

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford is executive director of MassVOTE, a Massachusetts-based organization that seeks to “make the electoral process more accountable and accessible”. She is also a board member of American Promise and is undeterred by the enormity of their task and the forces aligned against them, explaining, “I’m Black and I’m a woman. I’m used to fighting.”

Nick Garner is a web developer who moved to Kentucky from Boston in part to better understand the America that elected Donald Trump. Believing that there is common ground between the two parties and that most Americans are smarter than people think, he prefers speaking with those whose anger and frustration find expression in support for Trump and other anti-democracy Republicans. In his meeting with a young legislative aide in Mitch McConnell’s office, Garner said that she listened, which, he noted, is how relationships begin.

Carolyn Rush ran as a first-time candidate in this year’s Democratic primary for the House seat in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District. Her candidate website describes her as an engineer, mother, and problem solver. Referring to the amendment and what brought her to lobby day, she put it simply: “It has to get done.”

And as several of the lobbyists noted regarding the challenges of amending the Constitution,  it has been done before – 27 times.

Learn More, Get Involved

The following organizations were either mentioned above or are doing related work. Each offers additional information and ways to become actively engaged in building support for the amendment and strengthening the power of the individual vote.

American Promise: A national organization committed to getting foreign and corporate money out of our elections through passage of an amendment to the US Constitution.

MassVOTE: A Massachusetts organization that seeks to increase voter participation in the state.

Protect Maine Elections: A bipartisan group of Maine lawmakers and citizens who seek to put a referendum on the state’s 2023 ballot that, if passed, would prohibit foreign influence in Maine elections and promote an anti-corruption amendment to the US Constitution.

Author: George Linzer
Contributing Editor: David Hawkings
Published on October 8, 2022

Feature image: George Linzer

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Mainers Again Flex Their Independence to Protect Their Vote

A ballot initiative to ban foreign money from influencing state elections and support an amendment to the US Constitution to regulate campaign spending reflects Maine’s continuing role as a laboratory for voting reforms aimed at strengthening the power and voice of local citizens.

2022-10-08T16:16:38-05:00December 15, 2021|


George Linzer, conversations with citizen lobbyists, Sep 28, 2022;
follow up emails for clarifications and confirmations

George Linzer, phone interview with Jeff Clements, Oct 6, 2022

Guidestar,, accessed Oct 4, 2022

Bradley Jones, “Most Americans want to limit campaign spending, say big donors have greater political influence”, Pew Research Center, May 8, 2018,, accessed Oct 3, 2022

Anthony Salvanto, “Americans continue to feel U.S. democracy is under threat — CBS News poll”, CBS News, Sep 1, 2022,, accessed Oct 5, 2022

Ashley Balcerzak, “Study: Most Americans want to kill ‘Citizens United’ with constitutional amendment”, Center for Public Integrity, May 10, 2018,, accessed Oct 3, 2022

Carolyn Rush for Congress,, accessed Oct 4, 2022

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