Rootstrikers Call for Constitutional Convention

The proposed constitutional amendment
would prevent corporations from being defined
as people.

Hundreds of activists met at San Francisco State University on Saturday, to discuss corruption and ending the influence of money in politics.

Many activists traveled from across the nation to attend the constitutional convention. In addition, some individuals came from Europe to attend the conference. More than 1,000 people watched the conference online, Rootstrikers reported.

Rootstrikers is a non-partisan, nonprofit group focused on ending the influence of lobbyists and money in politics. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and activist Joe Trippie created Rootstrikers in 2011.

Philosopher Thoreau’s quote from his book Walden, which states, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,” inspired the name of the group.

Lessig called for state senators to convene a constitutional convention. The convention would call for an amendment that would prevent corporations from being legally defined as a person.

“We can’t rely on Congress, we need a way around Congress,” Lessig said, explaining that the framers of the constitution implemented the idea of a constitutional convention to bypass Congress. “If Congress was the problem,” Lessig said, “the only way for the people to overcome their power is to stage a convention.”

Cenk Uyghur, founder of the largest online news network, The Young Turks, said the current state of America is an “absolute, epic disaster.”

“None of your representatives represent you. They represent the people who pay them,” Uyghur said. “And the donors pay them, the lobbyists pay them. Yes the Republicans are dirty and as corrupt as it gets, but so are the Democrats.”

However, not everyone agreed that a constitutional amendment is the way to solve the problem. Daniel Newman, co-founder of MapLight, stated that barring corporations from making significant contributions to political elections would not solve their concerns.

The amount given to SuperPACs from corporations is 11 percent, he said. The other 89 percent would still be a problem. Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy business owner, donated $98 million to candidates in the last election, Newman said.

The solution he suggests is small donor funding systems. In Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, this system has worked on the local level, he said.

A small donor funding system would typically create a fund that would match the donations of private citizens, Newman said. Newman claims this would prevent wealthy citizens from having significant influence on legislation and political races.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York wants to pass a bill that would implement a similar system, Newman said, and the state legislature supports it.

“We can’t afford to pursue something that might be successful and might take 15 or more years that if we win is not going to roll back Sheldon Adelson’s spending,” said Newman.

Both sides of the debate agreed their concerns could not be solved on a federal level, so activists have to focus on state officials.

Many in attendance stated they were not pleased with the message of the event. Some openly probed the speakers, asking for concrete solutions to solving the problem of money in politics.

Sinan Khalili came from Sweden to attend the event and propose his idea of creating a viral video to bring awareness to the issue. He has been working on this idea for eight months and was excited to present his plan.

Khalili follows Rootstrikers on Facebook and is enthusiastic about their message, but thought the event could have been better.

“We’re going to talk a lot about what we need to do, and so on,” said Khalili. “But as far as the itinerary goes, I haven’t seen an idea as to how we actually get it out to the public.”

Szelena Gray, director of Rootstrikers, didn’t think the complaints were fair, and mused perhaps the diverse number of actions activists could potentially take on the issue overwhelmed some people.

“There’s several bills in the legislature that we could help push right now that have been mentioned. I think it’s true that there isn’t just one thing to do, and I think this sometimes leads to a paradox that there is nothing to do,” Gray said.