CHEYENNE - Efforts to call for a constitutional amendment that would move toward changing the role of money in politics through a statewide ballot initiative have fallen short for the 2018 election. But its proponents are confident they will have the petition signatures they need for the 2020 ballot.
The efforts were spearheaded by Wyoming Promise, an affiliate organization of American Promise, though it's not funded or controlled by the national entity. Their proponents are calling for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would effectively overturn the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the conservative organization Citizens United successfully argued that law prohibiting corporations and unions from using their money in political speech violated the First Amendment.
"The only way we can get dark money out of politics is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution," said Wyoming Promise Treasurer Shelby Shadwell of Laramie. "Right now, the law says money is speech and corporations are people."
In May, Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray certified a state ballot initiative sponsored and authored by Wyoming Promise. Titled "An Act to Promote Free and Fair Elections," the ballot initiative could bring about a vote if it gathers 38,818 signatures - 15 percent of the total number of ballots cast in the 2016 election - by the start of the 2018 budget session of the Wyoming Legislature. The session starts Monday, so with around 10,000 signatures as of Tuesday, it is clear organizers won't have the signatures needed in time.
But it doesn't feel like a defeat for Shadwell. In fact, he said he's encouraged by the initiative's momentum. And the signatures collected in the last eight months aren't meaningless. If the organization meets the 38,818 signature threshold by Nov. 15, its initiative could appear on the 2020 ballot.
"We don't have to start over," Shadwell said. "We're pretty confident we're going to get there."
Shadwell said the initiative has been popular on all sides of the political spectrum, especially as the impact of "big money interests" from inside and outside Wyoming becomes more apparent in the state's elections. During a panel last summer on money in politics, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said he expects future election cycles will continue to see greater spending, including in 2018.
Wyoming Promise also supported House Joint Resolution 10 during the Wyoming Legislature's 2017 general session. The resolution would have urged Congress to send states an amendment on political spending for ratification. Though it made it out of the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee with a 5-4 vote, the resolution was never introduced for a vote in the House.
The ballot initiative or legislation would call for an amendment to the Constitution either through a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress or a convention of states. In the convention of states scenario, two-thirds of states would have to call for a convention through two-thirds votes of legislatures. All 50 states would then participate. Three-quarters would have to ratify the amendment for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution.
Even if the ballot initiative passed in 2020, Wyoming would be only the sixth state to call for a limited convention on the issue. Shadwell said it's a long road, but that doesn't deter his conviction that the amendment must be ratified as soon as possible.
"It's a long game," he said. "The Constitution is not easy to amend, and for good reason. . It may take 10 years, but I think we're going to get it. Every single generation of Americans has proposed constitutional amendments, and it's our turn.”