New constitutional amendment needed to fix presidential campaigns

Thursday, October 11, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:51 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009

This is the third in a “series” that started as a fluke, a fanciful idea of changing U.S. presidential campaigning as we now know it. Tired of “sound-bite” debates, the first article proposed to replace the so-called “presidential debates” with a golf tournament, highlighting integrity and honesty. That generated some interest, but mostly from the golfing community.

The second in this series concerned creating a calendar for the general election. I suggested that we limit the presidential campaign to one year with severe limitations on expenditures and contribution collections. The idea seemed to hit a high note and generated the second largest number of responses from my loyal and not-so-loyal readers. It also generated an invitation to speak to a civic organization to answer a single question: What now?

Organize! I have taken my cue from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and the “Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement.” Arlo asks what would happen if one person walked into a draft office (remember this was the late 1960s) singing a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and then walked out. Imagine two and then three people walking in, singing a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant” and walking out. Could you imagine “fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends, they may thinks it’s a movement.”

Friends, can you imagine fifty people a day per congressional district signing a petition to hold a national referendum to add the 28th Amendment to the Constitution declaring how presidential elections should be run? The voice of the people, tired of the contrived, long-winded and financially bloated campaigns will be heard. What a concept.

The Constitution is clear on who can be president, senator and representative. We have declared, through amendment and courts, how to vote, when elected officials take office, how they should be replaced upon death, resignation or conviction, and how they are to receive a pay raise. Each Amendment is short and to the point, with a single issue of focus.

Michael Beschloss, political historian and commentator for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, reminds us that the basic flaw of the Constitution is its silence on the actual voting process. What day the vote should take place, when conventions, caucuses and primaries should be held and the like. These issues are determined by the two major parties that seem to make up the rules on the fly.

The Constitution also allows for change, as we have seen 27 times since its ratification. We can and need to do this once again, seeking the national approval for the Campaign Reform Amendment. It will take hard work, great organization and lots of money.

We need to begin at the beginning, creating an organization dedicated to amending the Constitution of the United States. This committee needs to draft the proposed amendment, creating interest and offices in all 50 states. It needs either two-thirds congress or of the state legislatures to call for the proposed amendment. Once this hurdle is cleared, either three-quarters of state legislatures or of state ratification conventions must vote for approval of the amendment for ratification. It will be a long and hard fought campaign, identifying senators and representatives, federal and state, willing to sponsor and support such reform. Fear and loss of power are the enemies, as will be special interest groups and large corporations.

Can it be done? The odds are in the favor of “yes.” In baseball, a batter with a hitting average of 30 percent is considered very good. New amendment passage sits at over 80 percent. It requires an organization with a clear mission, strong leadership with vision and enthusiasm, not to mention the sex appeal of the people having an actual voice in the presidential selection process again. It can be done.

Can you imagine a real convention with real questions as to who will be the candidate for president? Floor fights and discussion? Allowing the people a true voice in the process? Let the movement start in the middle of Middle America. Let’s all sing the “Campaign Reform Amendment Movement” as it comes around on the guitar ... With feeling!

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at

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