Corporate Rule Transcends Citizens United

January 14, 2020

A Report on the Totality of Corporate Constitutional Rights Beyond First Amendment Political Free Speech

The Citizens United v. FEC decision expanded corporate ability to influence the outcomes of a core element of our democratic republic: political elections. Contrary to the traditional narrative,  the corporate hijacking of democracy and dominance over people, communities and the environment began long before Citizens United. And also contrary to the traditional narrative, the corporate assault on Americans' rights extends far beyond their ability to influence elections. 

The 10th anniversary of Citizens United in January 2020 creates numerous educational and organizing opportunities. Much deserved attention will be paid to how the decision:

  • opened the floodgates to money pouring into federal and state political elections from wealthy individuals and corporate entities (e.g. unions and especially for-profit business corporations) through super PACs,

  • increased dramatically “dark money” political spending (i.e. spending funneled through nonprofit organizations, which doesn’t have to be publicly disclosed),

  • corrupted public policies favoring the super rich and corporate interests via tax cuts, subsidies, perks and protections, 

  • drowned out the voices of people -- in need of comprehensive health care, good paying jobs, safe communities, financial security, affordable education, decent housing and other basic needs -- who cannot donate or substantially invest in political elections -- who don’t donate to or invest in political elections in need of comprehensive health care, good paying jobs, safe communities, financial security, affordable education and housing, and other basic needs,

  • established a precedent for subsequent Supreme Court decisions (e.g. SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission), and

  • resulted in overturning strong state level campaign finance limits (e.g. in Montana and elsewhere)

A common refrain during the Citizens United anniversary period will be how the decision supposedly established for the very first time First Amendment-protected “corporate personhood” and money spent in political as “free speech.”

Nothing could be further from reality. 

Money spent in political elections defined as First Amendment-protected “free speech”  originated with the Buckley v. Valeo decision in 1976. 

Corporations being declared by activist Supreme Courts as “persons” with constitutional rights dates back more than a century.

These never-intended rights transcend First Amendment political “free speech.” They include hijacking the original intent of the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments -- that is, to protect We the People from government or to provide one group of people -- specifically in the case of the Fourteenth Amendment,  freed slaves -- with due process and equal protection rights that white people possessed all along.

The corporate highjacking of the Constitution also includes corporate-friendly Supreme Court interpretations of the Commerce and Contracts Clauses -- which cumulatively for more than a century prior to Citizens United were used as legal levers to overturn democratically-enacted laws protecting people, communities and the environment. 

The following sections describe how corporate constitutional rights in their totality -- not just political free speech rights -- have harmed workers, residents, homeowners, small businesses, consumers, and local elected officials trying to protect their communities, and plundered the natural world. Maybe most destructively, corporate constitutional rights have virtually eliminated our ability as supposedly self-governing people to self-rule.

The educational and organizing opportunities of the 10th Anniversary of Citizens United can’t be squandered. We must take take full advantage of the teachable moment to assert that:

  • the negative impact of corporate constitutional rights to individuals, communities, the nation and natural world are far wider and deeper than corporate money spent in elections, and 

  • simply reversing Citizens United through a constitutional amendment will not end corporate rule or create a democracy that represents We the People, not corporate interests. 

The 10th anniversary of Citizens United is also a movement mobilizing moment. As awareness of the power, authority and rights of money spent in elections and by corporations to govern rises, the opportunity to build an authentically inclusive democracy movement led by people from communities that have been historically most adversely affected also increases. People are on the move in the U.S. and abroad demanding transformative alternatives to the growing crises of the climate, health care, food, housing, education, income and wealth, criminal justice, and personal debt, among others.

Fundamental problems require fundamental solutions. Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment (HJR 48) -- a constitutional amendment calling for abolishing all corporate constitutional rights and the doctrine that money is speech -- is one part of the fundamental solution. Hundreds of communities and several states have passed resolutions and ballot initiatives calling for such an amendment that not only calls for ending money as free speech but also for abolishing all corporate constitutional rights. This wide spread support is based on the recognition that so many of the issues we care about can’t be realistically addressed until all corporate constitutional rights are terminated.

Alternative legislative or constitutional half measures that only address Citizens United or even calling for ending “money as speech” are based on what are deemed “possible” or “achievable” in the present. They fail, however, to comprehend that the current political, economic, social and environmental realities are unsustainable and reaching critical tipping points. What many perceive as impossible today will become essential and inevitable demands in the near future -- assuming those with foresight educate and organize now to build an inclusive, grassroots, independent and nonviolent democracy movement that has real power to create transformative change.

It is Move to Amend’s hope that this report will provide both the information and inspiration to take action to end corporate rule and constitutional rights in all its forms. It’s up to us, people at the grassroots -- especially those who’ve directly experienced the harms of corporate rule and rights -- to become the leaders of this movement. While we need support from public officials “on the inside,” the history of social movements in his country clearly demonstrates that it’s people organizing and mobilizing “on the outside” that create the culture and power to force systemic change.

We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. Join us to take action to create real democracy...for the very first time. 

Read the full report here

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