Citizen Reformers

David Denham – A Troublemaking Minister & Anti-corruption Activist

by Michael Deal, in The Roanoke Times, December 2, 2020

“We need to ‘concentrate on identifying candidates willing to stand for anti-corruption measures, support them through the primaries and into the general election.  The power of the voters is clear.  We just need to be persistent.  Once we get the people in place to make the change happen, the change will happen.’”

Read the full article.

Listen to the podcast.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 0 comments

This Year Marks the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment Giving Women the Vote

In Contrast to the Supreme Court’s Early and Consistent Support for Corporations, Expanding Democratic Rights to Disenfranchised Groups Has Involved Extended Grassroots Struggles

Women's suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a leading voice at the Seneca Falls Convention AP File

Unlike the long, torturous process that women, racial minorities, and the gay and lesbian community endured in winning their rights, corporations successfully waged campaigns to establish their rights and win greater freedom from business regulations in the courts of law – much sooner, more easily, and not based on national consensus.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement began in 1848 at a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and lasted decades.  Attempting to win a judicial victory granting women the right to vote, Virginia Minor, a suffragist, applied for voter registration in 1872 in Missouri, a state that prohibited women from voting. After she was denied registration, Minor sued the state, claiming that voting was a privilege or immunity protected by the 14th Amendment. In 1874, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Minor v. Happersett that the 14th Amendment did not extend the right to vote to female citizens.


Through organized rallies, protests and action, the national movement for women’s suffrage grew and pressure built in Congress and the states. In 1920, more than 60 years after the movement began, the 19th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting voter discrimination on the basis of sex and overturning the Minor decision.

In addition to women’s suffrage, Americans have amended the Constitution 6 additional times to overrule the Court, removing barriers to political equality and strengthening our democracy.  The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments corrected the notorious Dred Scott decision that tried to lock in slavery and oppression as Constitutional law. The 17th Amendment created the popular election of U.S. Senators, the 24th amendment abolished the poll tax, and in 1971, the 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

In marked contrast, and despite broad public opinion in favor of business regulations and campaign finance limits, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled on the side of corporations’ constitutional rights.  Adam Winkler explains in We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, whether it involved railroad, tobacco, oil, automobile, insurance, steel, newspaper, or other interests, and regardless of whether the Supreme Court was liberal or conservative, major corporations have mobilized significant resources to press for, and frequently win, court decisions to defeat unwanted government regulations.

Supreme Court decisions over the past half century are particularly egregious for having sold out our democracy to corporations, billionaires, and lobbyists. The Citizens United v. the FEC Supreme Court Ruling in 2010 was one of a series of Supreme Court decisions stretching back to Buckley v. Valeo in the 1970s that have eroded citizens’ ability to regulate election spending so as to control corruption and incentivize politicians to seek broad citizen support.  Now wealthy donors and special interests are free to spend without limits through Super PACs and “dark money” groups. 

Grassroots activism will certainly be required once again to effect change and restore equal representation for all by limiting the toxic influence of big money on politics.  An amendment to the Constitution is necessary, as it is extremely unlikely that the Supreme Court will reverse its position on this issue or that Congress will act on its own as its members are the primary beneficiaries of the current system.

Overwhelming majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents oppose the corruption and influence of money in politics and support comprehensive reform of our campaign finance system. To date, 20 states have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which authorizes Congress and the states to regulate election spending.  How long will it take for citizen activism across the nation to build pressure for enacting such an amendment? – the example of the suffragists shows how grit and determination can get the job done.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 2 comments

Citizen Activist Comments on Ohio Dark Money Scandal

Ellen Greene Bush

Ohio Representative Larry Householder has been driven from his role as Speaker of the House following his arrest on racketeering charges. The FBI charges that Householder oversaw a $61 million scheme involving bribes and hidden campaign cash to bail out Ohio’s two cash-strapped nuclear power plants and return himself to power.

Ellen Greene Bush, along with fellow citizen activists with American Promise, had sought a meeting with Householder to press their case for getting big money out of politics.  

Quoted in The Columbus Dispatch,  “It just reeked of dark money,” Greene Bush said. “Of course nobody knew at the time who was behind it, (but) when this story broke, there really wasn’t any surprise to those of us in American Promise.”

The goal of American Promise  (a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to limiting money in politics) is to organize Americans to win the 28th Amendment to the Constitution to restore American democracy in which ‘We the People’—not big money, not corporations, not unions, not special interests—govern ourselves.

Through Ellen’s civic engagement and that of thousands of other concerned citizens around the country, she is optimistic about the prospects for a constitutional amendment to place reasonable limits on Big Money in politics. 

It will take two-thirds of the House and Senate to accomplish that, plus ratification by a similar percent of the states.  Thus far, 220 members of the House Representatives have co-sponsored a bill (HJR-2) to accomplish that, and 47 Senators have co-sponsored a companion bill (SJR-5).  Twenty states have approved non-binding resolutions thus far, over half the 38 states required to ratify an amendment.  American Promise’s goal is for the amendment to be passed by 2026.

Ellen Greene Bush, of Port Clinton, Ohio, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a master’s degree in nursing, has worked as a psychologist in a group practice for most of her career.  Having grown up living on the shores of Lake Erie, Ellen explained how devastated she was in 2014 when Toledo’s drinking water was declared to be contaminated.   Uncontrolled phosphate run-off from concentrated animal feeding operations led to dangerous algae levels in the lake.  She found that ordinary citizens have little influence in these matters and was spurred to become engaged with others who shared her concern.

Ellen described her chapter of American Promise in Ohio as consisting not just of meetings and socializing. They are action oriented.  As a non-partisan group, her chapter and others across the country are intent on writing letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and, most importantly, talking to their elected representatives. 

Listen to the Citizen Reformers podcast in which Ellen is joined by two other American Promise citizen activists in discussing how the Covid-19 pandemic response has been hurt by health-care industry political spending.


Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 0 comments

Ep. 008: Hedrick Smith talks grassroots democratic reform & reclaiming the American Dream

Hedrick Smith

Democracy in America is in danger.  Public trust in government is at an all-time low. Ordinary citizens have a negligible effect on government policy while wealthy individuals, large corporations, and special interest groups exercise considerable political clout.   Gridlock and partisan polarization are blocking measures which the majority of Americans agree are necessary. Income inequality is at its highest point in nearly a century and the American Dream is out of reach for many.  How did we get here and what can be done to save our democracy?

In today’s episode we’ll hear from Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith, whose one-hour PBS documentary “The Democracy Rebellion” chronicles the rise of citizen reform movements across America working to restore fairer, cleaner elections and to limit the corrosive influence of big money in our politics.  Hedrick Smith describes the grassroots movements pushing for partisan gerrymander reform, voting rights, and exposing dark money, providing compelling evidence that our democracy can be saved when ordinary citizens take action.

The “Democracy Rebellion”, available for live streaming on YouTube, provides viewers with an uplifting perspective on what is possible.  Learn about other grassroots activism on Hedrick’s website:  To understand how we got here and the complex challenge facing American democracy, Hedrick draws upon his analysis from his 2012 book Who Stole the American Dream? to explain the rise of economic inequality and how big money interests have captured our political system.

Join us for an enlightening conversation.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 1 comment

Democracy Rebellion — A Reporter’s Notebook with Hedrick Smith

Hedrick Smith’s documentary “Democracy Rebellion: Videos of People Power in Action” will be rebroadcast on WETA World Channel July 15 at 7pm, July 16 8 am, July 18 9 am; and July 21 11 am. It can also be streamed or you can catch it on youtube with this link.  
This film is the missing story of American politics. Not Washington, but grassroots America. Not stale gridlock, but fresh reforms. Not partisan combat, but hands across party lines. Not negative ads and mega-donors, but positive change and citizen activists pressing for gerrymandering reform and voting rights for former felons, exposing dark money, and winning surprising victories to make our elections fairer, more transparent, and more inclusive.
You’ll join Hedrick on-location in half a dozen states across the country, covering citizen movements and capturing the compelling stories of local heroes leading cross-partisan campaigns to revive our democracy, winning voter protections and gerrymander reform, exposing dark money, and passing anti-corruption ballot initiatives to make our elections cleaner, fairer, and more open to all. What’s so encouraging and important is their powerful message: Citizen power still has clout in today’s America.

Hedrick Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter and Emmy award-winning documentary producer for PBS and PBS FRONTLINE. Over five decades as a reporter, editor, producer and author, Smith has established himself as one of America’s premier journalists.

In 26 years with The New York Times, Smith served in Saigon, Cairo, Paris, the American South and as bureau chief in Moscow and Washington. In 1971, he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for the Pentagon Papers series and in 1974, he won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting from Russia and Eastern Europe. From 1988 through 2009, Smith reported and produced more than 50 hours of long-form documentaries and mini-series for PBS and PBS FRONTLINE. One distinctive feature of his television productions is his focus not just on examining systemic problems in modern America but on seeking solutions.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 0 comments

Meet the reformer: Louise Dubé, driving more equitable and inclusive civics learning (from The Fulcrum)

Louise Dubé is about to mark her sixth anniversary at the helm of iCivics, which offers a menu of online games and lesson plans that have become perhaps the most widely adopted civics curriculum in the country. (The nonprofit was started by Sandra Day O’Connor soon after she retired from the Supreme Court.) Dubé started her career as an attorney in Montreal but has been an educational innovator in the United States since the 1990s — founding an alternative school for youthful offenders in New York, launching three educational software startups and helping start PBS LearningMedia while directing the digital education efforts of the network’s station in Boston. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

What’s the tweet-length description of your organization?

iCivics reimagines K-12 civic education to build civic strength.

Describe your very first civic engagement.

I’m from Quebec, and I grew up during the independence movement. It was a scary time, and you had to take sides. The father of one of my classmates was kidnapped during the conflict. I campaigned actively for the federal system, which won in a referendum. I marched and knocked on doors. I was proud of having helped in a small way to keep Canada together.

What was your biggest professional triumph?

I’m proud of the growth and impact of iCivics. We have more than tripled in size since I joined, and expanded to all 50 states. Students learn actively and deeply with our games and other curriculum materials. I am most proud of the community of educators we have built who are enthusiastic about iCivics. No learning happens in schools without the buy-in and skill of teachers.

And your most disappointing setback?

Over the past three years, we have sought to stimulate a movement to prioritize and improve civic education to combat what ails our constitutional democracy. We have made a lot of progress, but so far, the field has not found a home — in other words, no set of supporters for whom this is the primary mission. While every report and every person concerned with democracy reform mentions and highlights the need for civic education, it has not gotten the investment it deserves.

Many funders see elementary and secondary education as resistant to change. Others see it as a long-term project that is the responsibility of the government. Yet, the government has dis-invested in civics over decades, with clear results. I am still hopeful this critical mission will find the supporters and resources it needs to be the solution it can be.

How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?

iCivics is deeply committed to nonpartisanship. To do this work, I needed to adopt that same stance in my personal life. I do not post or share about political issues. I do not rail against politicians or support issues viewed as belonging to one party or the other.

But while iCivics will never take partisan stances, we will uphold moral imperatives, such as racial justice.

As a result our CivXNow coalition of educators has aligned behind policies that address equity in civics and democratic schooling environments — plus support for educators to have difficult conversations in the classroom as well as deeper knowledge and media literacy. We’re working to do this while ensuring respect for a range of schools across very different viewpoints and local contexts.

Recently, though, iCivics made a commitment to pointing out institutional systemic racism in teaching about our institutions. This will alienate some, but it is the moral imperative of today.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

I hate advice, but here is something that has inspired me over the years: Start with the end. It helps bring much-needed clarity.

Also: Look deep inside to see where you need to go, and join with others to find purpose.

Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry’s.

I sent this challenge to the iCivics team, which greatly appreciated the mission. The winner was a minty tie — between “Mint CitizenCHIP” (suggested by colleague Molly Launceford) and “27 A’mint’mints” (with 27 kinds of mint).

The runners up are “Liberty and Justice for Allmonds” (every other nut is out of luck, says suggester and head punster Emma Humphries) and “Seven Cream 76” (suggested by David Buchanan).

What’s your favorite political movie or TV show?

“Twelve Angry Men,” the 1954 play written originally for television by Reginald Rose. It’s not actually political, but it’s about the power of one person to strive for justice. I was trained as a lawyer after all. And HBO’s “Veep,” because … it’s fact based?

What’s the last thing you do on your phone at night?

Check email to see if a million-dollar donation came through. This rarely happens, though.

What is your deepest, darkest secret?

Starting when I was 12 years old, I tried to figure out how to move to “The States,” as they call it in Quebec. A number of harebrained schemes to get here all failed due to lack of cash. It is very gratifying today to have a very small role in improving our constitutional democracy as an American citizen.

Also, I hate mint ice cream.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 0 comments

Ep. 007: Vicki Barnes — Volunteer Activist for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to Ensure Free & Fair Elections

Vicki Barnes

Vicki Barnes is the Minnesota State Coordinator for American Promise, a cross-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advocates for the 28th amendment to the U.S. constitution.  By overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, the 28th amendment would ensure free and fair elections by empowering voters to control the increasing influence of big money in American politics.

As a new grandmother, Vicki realized that unless ordinary citizens demanded change to limit runaway spending by the wealthy, big corporations, and special interests, her grandchildren would not inherit the country they deserved.  Since moving to Minnesota in 2016, and before that in Wisconsin, Vicki has been a volunteer activist educating citizens and organizing them to engage their legislators on resolutions calling for Congress to act.

In this podcast, Vicki explains why money in politics is the key issue to be addressed.  If citizens press for common sense limits on election spending and lobbyists, she believes many long-standing issues affecting the public interest will get solved.  Vicki describes the challenges of bridging the partisan divide and gaining support in rural areas and among conservatives.  She found that opposition to huge out-of-state election spending is something all sides agree on.

As a lifelong volunteer on civic issues, Vicki explains her journey to seek training and learn how to organize from the ground up.  The American Promise chapter in Minnesota now has over 200 members, with a core group of 40 activists who have successfully gained approval for 4 local resolutions in support of the 28th Amendment, with 5 more in the works.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 0 comments

Ep. 006: Wolf-PAC National Director Michael Monetta

Michael Monetta

Podcast Notes:

Join us for a conversation with Michael Monetta, National Director of Wolf-PAC, a non-partisan, non-profit reform organization working for free and fair elections.  Concerned about the corrosive influence of Big Money in politics, Wolf-PAC’s network of volunteers active in all 50 states are advocating for an Article V Limited Amendments convention to propose campaign finance reform.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, and several related decisions, unleashed a torrent of undisclosed election spending.  Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—are in favor of placing limits on campaign spending by wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interests.  Given Congress’ failure to address this issue, Michael Monetta explains how an Article V Limited Amendments convention empowers states and citizens in calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn misguided Supreme Court rulings. 

In this podcast, we ask Michael about the fear of a “runaway convention’, how Wolf-PAC coordinates with other grassroots reform organizations concerned about Big Money in politics, and the challenges Wolf-PAC volunteers face.  Our listeners will be interested to learn how Wolf-PAC offers its volunteers training in how to engage with their state legislators, how to have a constructive conversation – many for the first time.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 3 comments

United Against Corruption


Democracy4Change joins Wolf-PAC and a number of other nonpartisan, grassroots democracy reform organizations in standing united in demanding a government that is responsive to the will of the people.

A Declaration of Unity


We, the undersigned, believe unlimited spending in our elections by Super PACs, corporations, billionaires, and special interest groups has eroded the American political system, and we must use every available tool of democracy to correct the course of our nation.

We believe that ending the undue influence of big money in our politics is an extremely urgent matter. Only when we have a truly representative government — responsive to the will of the people and not only the few who can afford to buy influence — can we effectively address the many critical issues facing our society today.

Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have united around our common vision of democracy and have risen up to defend it. For example, U.S. Senators were once appointed by state legislatures, until people took action in the early 20th century. The previous method was widely seen as a form of corruption, due to the disproportionate influence wealthy individuals and special interests had over the process. In fact, between 1866 and 1906 nine cases of bribery were brought before the Senate, which was often referred to as “the millionaires club.”

Using every available tool of democracy, including legislation, petitions from the people, ballot referendums, educational campaigns, resolutions calling on Congress to propose a Constitutional Amendment, and finally, applications for an Article V Convention to propose an Amendment, Americans fought to bring about the reform necessary to resolve this issue. These efforts did not impede each other; instead, they built the collective strength of the movement, resulting in the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for the popular election of Senators.

It is in this spirit, and with history as our guide, that we celebrate the many approaches and solutions to the threat to democracy we face today. Indeed, our time for action has also come. We must restore democracy once again.

We believe that we must lead with courage. When presented with challenges of many different magnitudes and against seemingly insurmountable odds — from the American Revolution to the civil rights era to the women’s suffrage movement — Americans have always taken courageous action to make our country more democratic, more inclusive, and a more perfect union. We must do the same today. There is too much at stake not to pursue every avenue of reform.

On behalf of ourselves and future generations, we stand united in demanding a government that is responsive to the will of the people.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 0 comments

Ep. 005: Covid-19 Pandemic Response Hurt by Health-care Industry Political Spending: Health-care Professionals Sound Alarm

Ellen Greene Bush
Marie HenselderKimmel
Robbi Duda

Disheartened treating patients struggling to pay for their medicine and insurance premiums, hit by surprise payments they can’t afford, or encouraged to undergo unneeded procedures, health-care professionals see first-hand the consequences of unlimited political spending by industry giants.  The harmful influence of political spending on policies over decades, they believe, has weakened our health-care system and thereby worsened the impact on America of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

How did three health-care professionals from different parts of the country come together to submit testimony to Congress calling for a constitutional amendment to limit Big Money in politics? Last Fall they met at a national conference of non-partisan civic volunteers concerned about the dramatic rise in outside spending in our elections and on lobbying our legislators. They compared notes on their careers – Ellen Greene Bush, an Ohio clinical psychologist; Marie HenselderKimmel, a New Jersey OB-GYN doctor; and Robbi Duda, a Michigan registered nurse – and realized how similar their experiences were regarding the harmful effects of big pharmaceutical and insurance companies on the quality of care and well-being of their patients. Today, faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, these three ‘citizen lobbyists’ are taking action to limit political spending so that the American public can have the quality health-care system they deserve

Read the full story on here.

Posted by M.Deal in Citizen Reformers, 1 comment