Based on his Independent View (“Trust the voters, vote ‘yes’ on Question 3,” South County Independent, Oct. 23, 2014) I question Robert G. Flanders Jr.’s thinking.
Yes, back in the good old days, before we had our precedent-blind, John Roberts-led Supreme Court, a Constitutional Convention for Rhode Island might have made sense.
Flanders espouses Progressive ideals. We both agree with Theodore Roosevelt’s statement, made in 1909: “Self-government can never be bestowed by outsiders upon any people. It must be achieved by the people themselves.”
But tragically, government by the people themselves is exactly what we do not have now. Instead, we have the perversion of democracy brought about by two of the Roberts Court majority’s decisions.
In 2010, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates of undisclosed political spending – calling it free speech – for corporations, associations and unions to give unlimited amounts of money to support their political objectives. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the Supreme Court’s ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to the institution…A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”
In 2014, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission also removed all limitations of spending for billionaires, overturning protections passed after the Watergate scandal to limit spending through the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974. Dissenting justices argued the decision “creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or a candidate’s campaign. Taken together [with Citizens United v. FEC], today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
This is not the time, nor the place, to have a Constitutional Convention. The game is rigged. When is the time? The day after we amend our nation’s constitution by eradicating Citizens United and McCutcheon, whereby we restore legitimacy to our governance by removing the undisclosed money which punctures the very heart of our great republic, leaving voters feeling disenfranchised by powerful interest groups and individuals. Why should Rhode Islanders pay the $2 million it will cost, by very conservative estimates, to hold the convention? Let us fight the real fight and not the shadows. Ask yourself two questions: Should money decide elections, and should our state’s governing laws favor powerful interests? Vote no on Question No. 3.
Stephen R. Dahl