Learn about the American Promise vision for building a movement across the nation to pass the first citizen-led amendment of the digital age.
The need for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear: We must secure rights of representation for citizens, not offer up representation for sale to the highest bidder. Citizens have historically used the amendment process to expand democracy—and correct missteps by the Supreme Court. Freedom from slavery; women’s right to vote; young adults’ right to vote; the right to vote without payment; the elimination of Jim Crow laws—all of these fundamental rights were established by the amendment process.
Today our nation is again facing a challenge to the fundamental right to fair elections and equal representation: Big money has infiltrated and corrupted elections at every level and branch of the government, politicians pick their voters in redistricting, career politicians win re-election without serious challenges due to incumbent protection schemes, and voters are regularly excluded from the polls.
Necessarily, politicians spend more than half of their time raising funds. Because money has become the most important factor determining election and re-election, serving big moneyed special interests has become more important to elected officials than serving the interests of the public.
We all know this is not what was intended for our nation—in fact, more than 85 percent of Americans of all political persuasions agree on this one issue. We need an amendment for this era—to ensure equal representation for all, regardless of wealth. Fortunately, today we have greater capabilities to communicate, share information, and build community than any generation before us.
In this interview, American Promise Counsel Johannes Epke shares his thoughts on why and how we can, and will, pass the 28th Amendment to ensure equal representation for all Americans. Click here to learn more and join our movement.
Why do we need an amendment, and what kind of amendment do we need?
Johannes Epke: We need to reaffirm the Constitutional principle that the people rule in this country—the idea that in a democratic republic the people are the ones holding the power.
Today, ordinary Americans have little to no influence in policy outcomes in Congress—in fact, one recent Princeton study showed that average Americans’ feelings about any given law has a negligible impact on whether the law passes. The super wealthy, on the other hand, have the ability to see their agendas better represented, both by influencing who is elected and by gaining access to elected officials. Assuming representatives will need campaign contributions for re-election, monied interests get access in a way the majority of Americans don’t, because we don’t have millions to spend on elections.
How do you view this amendment within the broader scope of our political history?
JE: Past amendment efforts have shown that we enter these amendment periods in American history, where we’ve gotten off track and we require a revision to our social contract—to our foundational law. No one element is going to remedy the issue in full, but there are a few concepts that would have a huge impact on our ability to self govern if we can get them into the Constitution.
One of these is the unregulated flow of big money into our elections. The Supreme Court has said that contributions to candidates can be regulated, but the only justification for that regulation is quid pro quo corruption—legalized bribes, as in “I will give you $100,000 to pass this law.” The idea of systemic corruption is not a valid government issue in the eyes of the Court. The idea that Congress as a whole or elections as a whole could be corrupted—not by money contributed directly, but big money being spent through super PACs, or funneled through the political parties to candidates—isn’t something the Court is willing to weigh as an important issue, so there are very few regulations on those.
An amendment to remedy this could, most essentially, create a valid government issue in regulating money spent in elections. This would make it constitutional again for Congress and the States to set reasonable limits on independent expenditures and other forms of massive contributions.
Is there cross-partisan support for this issue?
JE: Citizens United invalidated big chunks of the McCain-Feingold Act. John McCain was the chief sponsor of that bipartisan campaign reform act—there was, and continues to be, bipartisan interest in better regulating campaign spending. No politicians want to spend 50 percent-plus of their time calling donors. They want to represent their constituents. They want to do their jobs. The Supreme Court took that ability away from them.
Right now, there are more Democratic co-sponsors of the various Amendment proposals in Congress that would allow reasonable limits on campaign spending, but we know from ballot initiative wins and polling that Americans across the political spectrum support this reform, and we’re working to translate that support into votes in Congress.
How does American Promise plan to ensure all Americans can weigh in on this issue?
JE: We’re in the process of hosting a series of public town halls bringing together constitutional experts and citizens to have an open conversation and then vote on the most important or most popular elements to the next amendment to the Constitution. Next, we want to take that format online so it can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, anytime. We are planning online town halls with a similar feedback mechanism, where people can share their testimony, comments and concerns, and vote on various pieces that could be included.
There is so much support for this movement. Recent research shows nearly all Americans agree on this single issue. I believe if all 300 million Americans read an article about American Promise tomorrow, we’d have enough support right then. Our goal isn’t to convince people who know about this work to get on board, it’s to find the people we know are on board but who don’t know that we’re already out here doing the work.
From his previous work on the 28th Amendment with Move To Amend, Johannes oversees the organization of Writing the 28th Amendment (an interactive collaborative citizen project), adds legal support to the ballot and legislative initiatives in the Citizens Uprising, monitors and tracks our legislator scorecard and Congressional and State vote-count, and expands resources and information for citizen leaders. Johannes is a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, and has practiced environmental law in California.