KEY POINTS

  • It's a positive first step towards allowing people to support limits on dark money political contributions through legislatures.
  • Virginia is not one of the states with a long history of corruption that has resulted in State Speakers of the House being indicted or even serving prison time.
  • Super PACs have been scourges on our elections ever since Citizens United.

On Thursday, the Virginia House of Representatives passed resolution HJR 599 making Virginia the 22nd state supporting efforts for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. This is a positive first step towards allowing people to support limits on secret pay-for-play political contributions (“dark money’) through their legislatures.

The resolution commemorates the many Virginia citizens who are moving this important issue forward to put power back into the hands of the people. Their commitment to equal rights, free speech, and government representation is the driving spirit that has grown across the country as part of a bipartisan movement. Thankfully, Virginia is not one of the states with a long history of corruption that has resulted in State Speakers of the House being indicted (Ohio) or even serving prison time (Alabama).

However, the history of individuals giving million-dollar contributions to Virginia candidates dates back to the 1980s, and to avoid the temptation for huge pay-for-play contributions it is important to enact an amendment to the United States Constitution to let legislators decide what limits or transparency should be required to ensure voters that their elected officials are focused on their needs and note a wealthy special interest.  

According to the Virginia legislature, resolution HJR 599 upholds the ideals of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and protects the free speech and liberty of all Virginians by supporting the passage of a new amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted 245 years ago, reads, "That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people," and free speech is a right held by natural persons, recognized and protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States regardless of wealth or access to corporate, union, or other treasuries. Money is property and not speech, and the United States Congress, state legislatures, and local legislative bodies should have the authority to regulate political contributions and expenditures to ensure power is vested in and derived solely from the people.

The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down long-standing precedents prohibiting corporations and unions from spending unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. This devastating decision opened the floodgates for wealthy special interests to sway politicians and affect the outcomes of any elections through multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and fundraisers. The average American voter was effectively silenced after the Citizens United ruling without big money to give to politicians they support. Corruption is at the root of the current system. 

What Virginia needs next is a Legislative Study Committee that can spearhead efforts to pass a law officially limiting the amount of donations a corporation or individual can give, and/or the rules for reporting donations that can now be hidden through shady third parties such as LLCs that secretly move money. If freed up to debate and discuss laws after passage of the 28th Amendment, they may choose to eliminate the role of Super PACs, which are a type of independent political action committee that raises unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, and individuals, but is not allowed to contribute to or coordinate directly with political parties or candidates. Super PACs have been scourges on our elections ever since Citizens United.

This year, Virginia celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revised Virginia Constitution, which in Article 1, Section 3 of the Bill of Rights, states that government is instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community. 

Grassroots organizations like American Promise have worked with Virginians to build bipartisan consensus and preserve Virginia's founding principles of free speech and independence by advancing the 28th Amendment authorizing the United States Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections.

John Pudner is Executive Director of TakeBack.org