“Our first priority today … is to defeat utterly those forces of greed and corruption that have come between us and our self-governance.” — Doris Granny D Haddock
Twenty years ago today, Doris Haddock of Dublin, then 89, was in Hot Springs, Ark., in the midst of a triple-digit heat wave, about halfway into her walk across the country to draw attention to campaign finance reform.
Granny D’s 14-month journey, which ended on the Capitol steps when she was 90, was a remarkable physical feat. She traversed deserts and mountains, cities and farms in covering more than 3,200 miles on foot. But what we still honor is her will.
Her journey, which ended with her arrest in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington in April of 2000, helped draw support to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which set some firm limits on political donations. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court, shortly before Granny D’s death in 2010, ruled in Citizens United that corporate and political action committee campaign donations are the equivalent of political speech, thereby protected under the First Amendment, greatly expanding how big money can be used to influence elections in our country. Worse, the court also allowed that large sums may be used to sway our elections without even having to reveal who supplied them.
Since then, the amount of money being spent on elections at just about every level of government has ballooned, while transparency has ceased. In other words, two decades after Granny D’s inspirational walk, we’re worse off than ever.
With the Supreme Court now inhabited by a majority of justices seen as unlikely to revisit the issue, there’s been much talk in recent years about a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. In fact, congressional Democrats introduced — again — just such a bill this week. It will likely go nowhere in the Senate, where GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has derailed similar past attempts.
Others have tried to go the route of garnering the support of two-thirds of state legislatures to accomplish the feat. Dozens of states have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional remedy to Citizens United and/or the concept of treating corporations as if they are citizens. The problem? The resolutions call for several different fixes — some targeting the language of Citizens United, some spelling out broad rights that ought to apply only to those eligible to vote, and some arguing for a constitutional convention, at which a solution might be hammered out.
This last prospect is particularly chilling in today’s divisive atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine our current lawmakers getting their hands on the U.S. Constitution and actually returning it intact, much less improved.
Still, something must be done, and Granny D’s extraordinary will and perseverance continue to thrive.
The N.H. Rebellion, started by fans of Granny D and dedicated to her spirit, will hold the sixth annual Granny D Memorial Walk Saturday. Walkers will gather at 9 a.m. near Granny D’s longtime home in Dublin and walk 6 miles to Depot Square Park in Peterborough, where they’ll have lunch and ice cream, accompanied by music. And there will be speakers. They’ll talk about what an inspiration Doris Haddock was and about the need to get money out of politics.
The former is a given around these parts. The latter won’t happen until either enough Supreme Court justices have a change in heart about the value of protecting our elections vs. the idea of treating companies as if they’re citizens — which is unlikely any time soon — or until enough voters get angry enough at no longer having a real voice in our government that Congress steps in and makes clear our government by and for the people means exactly that.