Constitutional amendment is goal of Grand Rapids group pushing ballot question

March 19, 2012
Matt Vande Bunte

GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids affiliate of a nationwide group looking to amend the U.S. Constitution is launching a petition drive to put a city show of support on the ballot this fall.

Move to Amend - Grand Rapids will try to organize a signature-collection campaign at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Institute for Global Education, 1118 Wealthy St. SE. Leaders hope to recruit more than 120 people to get the signatures of 20,000 registered Grand Rapids voters by July 3.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Vincent Schumacher, part of a small group spearheading the effort. “I want to have a group of us come down to the city clerk’s office (in July) and deliver a whole wheelbarrow full of petition forms.”

Move to Amend wants a constitutional amendment to state that people, and not entities like corporation or unions, are entitled to the liberties spelled out in the Bill of Rights. Specifically, the effort aims to exclude spending money on elections from the constitutional protection of free speech.

The movement stems from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects corporate and union political spending under the First Amendment.

The Move to Amend affiliate in Grand Rapids wants city voters to instruct state and federal representatives to pursue a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court ruling.

Move to Amend – Grand Rapids is “not under any illusions that the city of Grand Rapids can change the United States Constitution.” But if enough communities join the clamor “there will be significant pressure on state and federal legislators to say we need to do something,” said Schumacher, 67, a lawyer.

Corporate funding of political campaigns “perverts the electoral process” to the point that many Americans are disengaged from the political process, he said.

“That’s the danger,” Schumacher said. “We don’t need passive and cynical citizens in a democracy. We need people who are willing to take action. We need to continue the revolution.

“We don’t want to be owned by corporations. We shouldn’t have to vote for the legislators and governors that they want us to vote for. That should be sacrosanct.”

Move to Amend – Grand Rapids needs signatures from 12 percent of the city’s registered voters to put the proposal on the ballot in November, City Clerk Lauri Parks said. Alternatively, the group could ask Grand Rapids City Commission to pass a resolution, she said.

“We let them know that is an option. However, they wanted something more formal,” Parks said. “It would end up being an ordinance.”

Grand Rapids voters in November also could consider a proposal to make marijuana use and possession a civil infraction, rather than having police enforce state law that prohibits the drug. Backers are pursuing a city charter amendment that requires signatures from 5 percent of registered Grand Rapids voters to get on the ballot, Parks said.

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