Maryland delegates seek constitutional convention to rid politics of money

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday approved a call for a national convention to amend the U.S. Constitution in a way that limits the influence of corporate money in politics.

In particular, supporters want to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision in 2010 that lifted limits on corporate spending in elections.

On a largely party-line vote backed by the Democrats who dominate the chamber, the House voted to invoke Article V of the Constitution, which allows for a convention if two-thirds of the states pass resolutions calling for one for the same purpose.

The Maryland Senate is considering a similar resolution but has not voted on it. The House approved its resolution 92-43, with just one Democrat voting against it.

Lawmakers said the flood of cash into state and federal elections has diminished their effectiveness and eroded trust with voters.

“The perspective back home is that we’re all bought and paid for,” said Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat. “We want to take big money out of politics. This is where liberty happens, folks, right here and in every other state in the nation.”

There has been only one such convention in U.S. history — the original one in 1787 that resulted in the Constitution.

Over the years, Maryland lawmakers had approved calls for several others, including to reinstate prayer in school, to repeal the federal income tax and to require the federal budget be balanced.

Last year, Democrats pushed through a repeal of all those calls, saying they feared that convening a convention could lead to wholesale changes to fundamental rights.

Constitutional experts are divided over whether such a convention could be limited to a specific purpose or whether it would be free to propose a rewrite of the entire document.

This year, some delegates warned that just because the call for the convention is narrow does not mean that representatives could put anything on the agenda once it is convened.

“It’s going to be every lobbyist from coast to coast,” said Del. Robin L. Grammer, Jr., a Republican from Baltimore County. “The problem with calling a national convention is that our entire government is at stake.”

The resolution passed by the House expires in eight years if the convention is not called.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican, argued that the influence of corporate money in federal politics is overstated, joking that if money was that powerful she would have won her 2014 U.S. Senate bid.

“If money in politics was the problem it’s purported to be, you would be calling me ‘Senator Szeliga,’” she said.

ecox@baltsun.com

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