Three weeks ago, Ben Cohen—the "Ben" in Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream—started stamping paper currency. The stamps read "Money is not free speech" or "Not to be used for bribing politicians." He's stamped thousands of bills as the head stamper of Stamp Stampede, a nonprofit selling rubber stamps to promote a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.
The Indy caught up with Cohen last week, just before he boarded a flight from Arizona to California. Mostly we wanted to ask why the heck he's stamping money.
"It's monetary jiu jitsu, it's using money to get money out of politics," Cohen said. "When you put your message on a dollar bill, it gets seen by an average of 900 people...If you stamp 12 bills today, that gets seen by 10,000 people. If you do that 300 days a year, that gets seen by, I think, about 3 million people."
Stamp Stampede has sold roughly 1,000 stamps online, and one of the campaign's partner organizations, Move to Amend, has distributed an additional 500. "Now we just need to make sure people use them," he said. "Can you hold on just one second while I tie my shoes?"
Cohen has been combating "political bribery" for 10 years. He initially founded a string of groups aimed at shifting defense spending to social programs. "We're not out of money," Cohen said. "The only crisis we've got is that we're spending the money in all the wrong places." Corporations and wealthy individuals have a louder voice than the average voter, something Cohen calls a "money-ocracy."
He added that Pepsi vending machines don't have a problem with his stamps.
Passing a constitutional amendment is a tall order. And with groups like American Tradition Partnership fighting against campaign finance regulations, specifically in Montana, Cohen's push for change faces an uphill battle.
"Before the Occupy movement started up, I felt like that's not possible," Cohen said. "But I think the Occupy movement demonstrated that it is possible to bring together a massive, broad-based, grassroots movement to demand that change."
For Cohen, the real hurdle is more immediate: Republican and Democratic voters alike have grown cynical about money in politics. But all the groups allied with the Stamp Stampede are from the left.
"I would love to help a group on the right to form," Cohen said. "It's very interesting that the leadership on the right is not advocating for...I have to get off the phone, because I'm on the plane and they're making me."