2016 in Review: Working Towards A Brighter Democracy

Free Speech For People is proud to share all that we have accomplished together in 2016, from victories at the state and local level to expand the movement for a constitutional amendment, to a campaign to end super PACs and amplify our legal advocacy efforts. In our work in the courts, we shifted from the defense to the offense, while providing critical support to citizen-led state and local initiatives calling for a 28th Amendment. Here is a look at our year together:

JANUARY

  • At the beginning of the year, we ramped up our work on two important state ballot initiative campaigns in Washington and California, both calling for a 28th Amendment to overturn Citizens United.  In Washington State, Free Speech For People helped our coalition partners WAmend to meet their signature goal to get I-735 on the ballot. The proposed initiative was certified by the Washington Secretary of State on January 27th, for placement on the fall ballot.
  • In California, the fight continued to restore Proposition 49, The Overturn Citizens United Act back to the ballot. We provided grassroots and legal support, including an amicus brief and a letter to the California Supreme Court in support of the petition for a rehearing to be filed by the legislature to consider Proposition 49 for the fall ballot.
  • On the sixth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, John Bonifaz spoke at a panel organized by the Brookings Institution on solutions to remedy the growing campaign finance crisis threatening our democracy.

FEBRUARY

  • In February, we welcomed our newest counsel, Scott Greytak to help us further a new jurisprudence on money in politics and American self-government.
  • We weighed in to U.S. News & Report on a case with tech-giant Apple, about corporate free speech rights and a dispute with the US Government over providing access to its consumers’ phone data.

MARCH

  • Following the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia, our team laid out a democracy agenda for a post-Scalia supreme Court. Our Legal Director Ron Fein wrote to The Hill about an “emerging pro-democracy litigation strategy” to challenge the influence of unchecked political spending.
  • On the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court striking down the poll tax for voters, John Bonifaz wrote to Common Dreams about the importance of abolishing the wealth primary, considered the new poll tax in American politics.

APRIL

  • On April 1, 2016, Free Speech For People and Seton Hall School of Law co-hosted a symposium titled, “Democracy by the People: Reforming Campaign Finance in America Today,” featuring an impressive list of academics and members of the campaign finance reform community. A keynote address was delivered by Justice Cheri Beasley of the North Carolina Supreme Court. A full list of speakers is available, here.
  • During the weekend of 16-19th, Free Speech For People participated in the Democracy Awakening, a weekend long action with teach-ins, concerts, grassroots lobbying, and a massive rally. It was an event of historic proportions that brought together thousands of state and local activists around the issue of reforming money in politics.

MAY

JUNE

  • NY became the 17th state calling for constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, with bi-partisan majority, New York legislators signed a joint letter to Congress urging that it pass the amendment and send it to the states for ramification. FSFP supported grassroots efforts, alongside state and national organizers to celebrate this victory.
  • Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe and our Scott Greytak co-authored an op-ed in The Boston Globe on foreign political money in US elections, days before FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub hosted an FEC panel on titled “Corporate Political Spending and Foreign Influence.” This conversation kicked off our work to limit foreign-influenced corporate spending in elections.

JULY

  • Can super PACs be put back in the box? Matea Gold of the Washington Post covered the beginnings of our campaign to abolish super PACs with a challenge to the 2010 federal appeals court ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC—a ruling which unleashed a wave of Super PACs, leading to what is now the most expensive election in US history.
  • On July 7, 2016, Free Speech For People, along with a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress and congressional candidates—and joined by the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission seeking to abolish Super PAC spending in US elections. A petition accompanied the complaint, with thousands of Americans signing on to show their support.
  • Free Speech For People organized a panel at this year’s Netroots Nation Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The panel titled, “Bold Strategies for Achieving Political Equality Through a New Supreme Court” featured an impressive list of panelists including: Zephyr Teachout, Jamie Raskin, Spencer Overton, and our Co-Founder John Bonifaz.2009-12-31 23.00.00-15
  • In St. Petersburg, Florida, FSFP proposed an ordinance to abolish super PACs and ban foreign corporate money in local elections. On July 21st, the Petersburg City Council voted 6-1 to move forward for consideration our ordinance, following statements made by many St. Petersburg residents attending the packed meeting.  American Promise-Tampa Bay, the League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg, and other allies played a key role. Our St. Petersburg initiative is an important piece alongside FEC complaint, and part of our multi-pronged campaign to end super PACs.

AUGUST

  • In August, we launched a pledge campaign to provide financial support for our proposed St. Petersburg ordinance, in the case the ordinance is enacted and challenged in court.St. Pete Supporters
  • Former Montana Supreme Court Justice and Free Speech For People Board Member, James C. Nelson and Free Speech For People co-founder, Jeff Clements coauthored  an op-ed with theBillings Gazette on “Why Montanans Should Support 28th Amendment.”

SEPTEMBER

October

  • We continued to defend contribution limits in Montana on political equality grounds. On October 5, 2016, Free Speech For People filed a “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that Montana’s campaign contribution limits should be upheld to protect the constitutional promise of political equality for all.
  • On October 19, the Washington D.C. Lawyer chapter of the American Constitution Society presented a conversation on: Millennials and Money in Politics. The panel was moderated by our counsel, Scott Greytak and broadcast by C-SPAN.
  • On the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon ruling, Jasmine Gomez penned an op-ed in Truthout on how big money in politics threatens political and racial equality.
  • FSFP released two new research reports on super PACs and foreign-influenced money in U.S. elections. The reports focus on “Quantifying Foreign Institutional Block Ownership at Publicly Traded 
S. Corporations” and “The SpeechNow Case and the Real World of Campaign Finance”
  • Free Speech For People and the Stetson Law Chapter of the American Constitution Society presented a panel on short- and long-term strategies to overturn Citizens United. The panel DSCN5840-money-in-politics-panelbrought together some of the country’s boldest campaign finance reformers, including FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, for a vibrant discussion on how to connect our current constitutional moment and the prospect of a new ninth Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court with innovative new initiatives for ending big money’s dominance of American elections.
  • On October 27, the St. Petersburg City Council held a “Committee of the Whole” meeting on our proposed ordinance, with testimony and written letters of support The City Council will reconvene in 2017 to decide on next steps surrounding the proposed initiative.

November

  • On November 4, 2016, Free Speech For People, on behalf of a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress and 2016 congressional candidates, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission to abolish super PACs.  The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington D.C., seeks the reversal of the 2010 federal appeals court ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which unleashed super PAC spending in US elections. Matea Gold added additional coverage of our filing in the Washington Post.
  • Our Legal Director Ron Fein set forth a post-election agenda of how we can win campaign finance reform cases before the US Supreme Court.

December

  • Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), plaintiffs in our case against the FEC to abolish super PACs, appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal to discuss our work together to fight big money.
  • Our co-founder John Bonifaz appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the recount efforts and broader democracy issues facing our elections.

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