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Are boosters of that Citizens United initiative just dreaming?

Linda Brewster of Port Townsend is in Seattle to make some phone calls for I-735.
KUOW Photo/David Hyde
Linda Brewster of Port Townsend is in Seattle to make some phone calls for I-735.

Linda Brewster lives in Port Townsend, but today she traveled to Seattle to make phone calls for Initiative 735. She estimates she's dedicated over 1,500 hours of her life to this campaign.

She did it because she believes there's a fundamental problem in American politics – too much big money. And I-735 aims to limit it. But I-735 opponents say it won't work.  

Initiative 735 would reject the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. The 2010 ruling says political spending by corporations and unions is protected free speech. And I-735 calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

Nina Turner, former Ohio State senator and Bernie Sanders advocate, traveled to Seattle to stump for 735.

“Let’s be honest,” she said. “We have rich people competing against each other to become the president of the United States of America. That's what is happening.”

Turner says it's not just on the presidential level: “Look at how much it costs to run a U.S. Senate race for gosh sakes. Millions and millions and millions of dollars."

Turner says I-735 goes after the right target to fix all that – the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Citizens United said corporations and labor unions have the same free speech rights as individuals, so now they can spend money as much money as they like to persuade people how to vote – if the money is not spent directly on campaigns.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Nina Turner says, 'Money is not speech.'", "fid": "131011", "style": "offset_left", "uri": "public://201610/20161020-nina-turner.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW PHOTO/GIL AEGERTER"}]]Initiative 735 asks Washington's congressional representatives to back a constitutional amendment to reject that decision. The idea is to bring back certain limits on political spending. And it's not just for corporations – the initiative would include groups like The Sierra Club or the N.R.A. as well as corporations and unions because, as Turner puts it, "money is not speech.”

I-735 opponents like Paul Guppy disagree. He's with the Washington Policy Center, a think tank in Washington State that promotes free market solutions. 

On the one hand, Guppy admits initiative backers have a point: "There are corporations, there are influential individuals. There are nonprofit groups that raise a lot of money. There are super PACs. And they have a big influence. So I would agree with them 100 percent that they are right about what they see happening in our political system." 

But Guppy believes Initiative 735 is the wrong solution.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Paul Guppy says backers of I-735 have a point but not a solution. ", "fid": "121475", "style": "offset_right", "uri": "public://201510/IMG_1214.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW photo/Amy Radil"}]]“Giving more power to the government to restrict our speech, which is what initiative 735 is trying to move towards, is not something that I would agree with. The antidote to speech you don't agree with is more speech."

Specifically, Guppy advocates "competition in the marketplace of ideas. Joining together with others to raise money and combat big corporations or whatever message that you're hearing that you don't agree with to put out an alternative message."

What if Initiative 735 passes?

Short term, basically nothing. The initiative just asks the Washington state delegation to support a constitutional amendment. And the amendment would take a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and the House, which would then have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. Even backers admit it's a long shot.

So why spend so much time on it?

Nina Turner says because money in politics is such a big problem that you have to start somewhere. And she makes the point nearly every time anyone proposed a constitutional amendment – from the Suffragettes to the Abolitionists - faced similar criticisms: 

"I'm sure people told them the same thing – you're dreaming. This will never happen. But it happened."

Year started with KUOW: 2004