August 27, 2014

Grassroots effort seeks to stamp money out of politics

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Red lettered stamps popping up on dollar bills are part of a grassroots effort, started by a Williston resident, to keep money out of politics.

Red lettered stamps popping up on dollar bills are part of a grassroots effort, started by a Williston resident, to keep money out of politics.

By Matt Sutkoski
Observer correspondent

The red lettered stamps on $1 bills are proliferating. You might have seen them.
“Not to be used to bribe politicians,” one stamp reads. Another, in small letters, says “Amend the Constitution,” then in much bigger red letters. “Stamp out money in politics.”
The Stamp Stampede, as it is called, is viral marketing of the political kind. If enough people see these messages to remove what many say is an excessive amount of money from wealthy donors greasing, or some say corrupting, the wheels of politics, maybe things will change.
Ben Cohen, one of the two famous founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and a Williston resident, is behind the effort.
“The stamper campaign is about getting the money out of politics,” Cohen said.
The marketing campaign sells no product. Instead, it’s promoting a Constitutional amendment declaring money is not speech and corporations are not people.
It would reverse the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively prevented limitations on campaign spending and contributions.
Stamp Stampede is part of People Power Initiatives, a nonprofit based in Vermont. Cohen is the president and treasurer of People Power, and has the job of head stamper for Stamp Stampede.
Despite what he says is broad public support for the Constitutional amendment, Cohen, like most political observers, said adopting this amendment will be a long, difficult process, but it is do-able.
“The amendment needs a huge grassroots movement,” Cohen said. Doing so would put the issue in the forefront of political discourse, and will drive the effort along. The stamping effort, now more than two years old, is an important part of the grassroots push, he said.
People handle dollar bills all the time, so the increasing amount of currency with the campaign finance reform stamps is free advertising for the effort, Cohen said. He estimates nearly 900 people would see a single stamped $1 bill as it circulates.
According to the stamp campaign website, the average dollar bill lasts 4.8 years, the Federal Reserve estimates. If someone stamps bill halfway through its life, it will have 875 days left in circulation. The Stamp Stampede assumes the typical bill is passed around once a day.
“It’s a petition on steroids,” Cohen said of the campaign.
Cohen sees the amendment as crucial because of the influence of corporate money on politics.
“Congress ends up making laws or not making laws that benefit corporations at the expense of everyone else,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., approved the amendment proposal. The full Senate must give the proposal a two-thirds majority approval, which is unlikely, since Senate Republicans unanimously oppose the amendment.
Cohen says it always takes multiple votes in Congress to push forward an amendment, so the Judiciary Committee vote is the first victory in what will surely be a long slog.
The Stamp Stampede website addresses a number of concerns. Yes, they reassure us, it’s perfectly legal to stamp U.S. currency with messages, as long as you don’t deliberately destroy the bill.
The website also suggests stamping both sides of bills, to ensure people see the message.
The Stamp Stampede just about breaks even selling stamp makers for people to use on currency, Cohen said.
Cohen said the effort is going to add a new feature, in which people can join the “Society of Maniacal Stampers.” It’s meant for people who are particularly enthusiastic about the movement. They’ll get their own personalized stamps to place on currency.
And he vows to continue the effort until a campaign finance Constitutional amendment is passed.
More information on the stamping movement is available at http://www.stampstampede.org/

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