CHEYENNE — A bill that would have called for a convention of states to amend the Constitution and overturn the controversial Citizens United ruling was killed in committee Wednesday by a narrow 3-2 vote.
Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, SJ-002 would have added Wyoming to the list of five states that have called for a convention of the states to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, a landmark Supreme Court decision that led to an unprecedented amount of corporate spending influencing federal elections.
“No” votes included Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, and Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper.
The impetus for the bill began with a petition drive from a group called Wyoming Promise, which in late 2018 attempted — and failed, despite gathering more than 26,000 signatures from across the state — to get a question calling for a convention of states passed as a ballot initiative.
Roughly 20 members of the group – which numbers nearly 300 members, according to executive director Ken Chestek — were jammed into a meeting of the Senate Minerals Committee on Wednesday, many wearing buttons calling for “Free and Fair Elections” in Wyoming.
Speaking before the committee, Chestek argued that despite an obvious increase in the pervasiveness of corporate and “dark money” — political donations from unknown origins — in America’s elections, members of Congress had become “addicted” to the money and today, could not be trusted with the task of reforming American elections. The issue today is so bad, Chestek said, that it could be fixed only through invoking Article V of the United States Constitution, which allows a convention of the states to come forward and approve amendments to the Constitution, circumventing the legislative process.
“That’s the genius of our founding fathers — when they see Congress has become the problem, they’ve created a method for states to go around the problem,” Chestek said.
However some members of the committee, who expressed an interest in solving the problem, were reluctant to agree that a convention of states was the best solution. Rothfuss, while sympathetic to the issue, said he was unsure that invoking Article V would do less harm than good, and recommended an amendment to soften the bill from a hardline commitment to a Constitutional Convention to a resolution simply asking Wyoming’s delegation in Washington to try and reform campaign finance through the legislative process.
Though Rothfuss noted the change would have “little risk” and help to get the conversation around campaign finance reform moving faster than waiting for a Constitutional Convention would, that amendment failed, with several legislators noting it would contradict the original intent of the bill.
A second try?
Despite the loss in the Senate, a similar bill was introduced Thursday that activists believe satisfies the questions raised in the committee Wednesday.
The bill mirrors the resolution suggested by Rothfuss, essentially putting forward a resolution to Wyoming’s delegation in Washington to support campaign finance reform.
“We believe HJ0008 satisfies the concerns of the Senators who voted no on SJ0002, and therefore has a good chance of success,” Chestek wrote in a news release Thursday. “We are now awaiting a committee assignment in the House, and will update all of our volunteers when that assignment has occurred.”