Remember back in 2009 before the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling when the U.S political and legal system wasn’t about prioritizing the interests of the extraordinarily wealthy, but instead was fair and just no matter what your social status?
Remember when the electoral system wasn’t corrupted by big money, and your average person had real influence over who could win for political office?
Wait a minute! You don’t remember that? Yeah… neither do I.
I remember the 2008 election -- at the time the most expensive in the history of the world. That year a record-shattering $5.3 billion was spent by candidates, political parties and interest groups on the congressional and presidential races.
I remember in 2006 when my community in northern California passed a ballot initiative to outlaw political contributions by outside corporations because of our experience with a giant timber company based in Texas that tried to recall our elected representatives for enforcing the law against them; and of Wal-Mart corporation trying to change our local zoning laws through purchasing a ballot initiative.
Our community tried to protect ourselves, but two short years later in 2008 our “Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Fair Elections and Local Democracy” was overturned in federal court because it violated the so-called rights of corporations to influence our local elections.
Our community is only one of thousands that has been slapped down in the name of “corporate personhood” over the past 125 years.
But didn’t corporate constitutional rights start with the Citizens United Supreme Court case in 2010? Wouldn’t it make such a big difference if we could just overturn that case?
That’s what some people would have you believe, but simply overturning Citizens United will not solve much. Narrowing the solution while our movement is on the rise will guarantee what we’re left with a Bandaid trying to cover a gushing headwound that is the current state of our democracy. We need to go deeper and make clear that only human beings can claim Constitutional rights.
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing to discuss “Examining a Constitutional Amendment to Restore Democracy to the American People.” Unfortunately, the proposal before the Senate wouldn’t do nearly enough to “restore democracy.”
Senate Joint Resolution 19 is a Constitutional Amendment proposal being put forward by Democratic leadership in a federal election year when Democrats desperately want to find a way to woo an American public increasingly disgusted with everyone in Washington D.C. What the amendment would do is give Congress and the States authority to regulate campaign spending. It would overturn the money in politics part of Citizens United, but it doesn’t address corporate constitutional rights at all.
This proposal is a clear indication that our message is reverberating in the halls of power. Thanks to the work of Move to Amend and our allies, members of Congress are starting to take our movement seriously.
Tens of thousands of volunteers across the nation have been building a grassroots movement over the past four years from the bottom up. This movement didn’t come from Washington D.C. or political opportunists paying lip service to get your vote in an election year.
This movement came from everyday people taking this issue to their city governments, to town meeting debates, to candidate forums, to newspaper opinion pages, and to the ballot box directly. Nearly 600 cities and towns have now passed amendment resolutions.
Polling shows 80% of the American public believes that corporations should not have the same rights as people. State legislatures have been pressured to stand up as well, with 16 states passing resolutions calling for an amendment. “Ending Corporate Personhood” was a major theme in the demands that came from Occupy encampments across the country.
All of this points to why it makes no sense to compromise now, or to hand this debate over to power players in Washington D.C. Passing an amendment will be a tough job, so the language must be commensurate with the effort needed to win, and the amendment must be strong and clear enough to end corporate rule -- there's no room here for half solutions or ambiguity.
The plan is that this amendment will get a vote in the Senate this year -- before election season. We cannot allow a proposal that doesn’t address corporate constitutional rights to get traction -- the amendment must match the demand of our movement: “A Corporation is Not a Person! Money is Not Free Speech!”
We can’t stop there. There’s a reason the Movement to Amend has been focusing most of our resources on a grassroots movement directed at the American people rather than at Washington D.C. We need to build power and capacity so the real amendment necessary -- the “We the People Amendment” that ends corporate personhood and money as speech -- is what passes. Halfway measures, whether fueled by co-optation or lack of vision, threaten to take the focus away from movement building. Let’s not let that happen.
Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap is National Director of Move to Amend. She can be reached at info [at] MoveToAmend.org.