Sixteen states have voted in favor of a Constitutional amendment to limit corporate donations in elections, and Ben Cohen wants to make Washington the 17th.
The former CEO of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream visited the Kirkland store on Lake Street Tuesday to help gather signatures for Initiative Measure No. 1329. If approved by voters the initiative would have Washington join the other states in declaring support for a Constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In the decision the court ruled that freedom of speech includes spending money.
In 2013, the Kirkland City Council approved a resolution supporting efforts to overturn the decision.
Cohen helps to promote his views through Stamp Stampede, which allows people to stamp their dollars with a short message about the issue, the website address to the organization and the Twitter hashtag #GetMoneyOut. Cohen said that this is an effective and affordable way to reach hundreds of people with each stamp.
Cohen first became interested in the issue of money in politics after the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, but he didn’t think there was any hope of changing it until the Occupy movement started in 2011. It was then he said he realized how the Internet had transformed people’s ability to communicate and spread a message.
“So many people supported the movement, but very few could hang out in a park,” he said. “There needed to be a way for people to show their support.”
For Cohen, giving the federal government more power to regulate campaign donations by corporations would allow more laws to be passed concerning environment and financial regulations, as well as a new energy policy.
When people express skepticism that such an amendment could pass, he tells them they need to do their best nevertheless.
He also said a constitutional amendment is the only practical way to overturn Citizens United, though he admitted that it’s possible a future Supreme Court could misinterpret the proposed amendment.
In Citizens United, a lobbying group wanted to air a film about Hillary Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the group was prohibited under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act from advertising the film or paying to have it shown on television within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic primaries. The Supreme Court overruled the decision, prohibiting the federal government from limiting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions.