Stephen Justino of Move to Amend drew a dozen voters to the Mercury Café in Denver on Sunday for a Call to Action aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling. The 2010 decision established two legal principals: Corporations are entitled to free speech protections like those extended to persons, and spending on political matters equals speech, so spending constraints constitute an improper limitation on free speech. Move to Amend rejects the ruling and is working to amend the Constitution “to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.” The explosion of money pouring into Super PACs and other, often anonymously funded campaign committees during the past three election cycles is largely due to the Citizens United ruling.
Polls indicate widespread public opposition to the ruling, surpassing 80 per cent among voters at large, 90 per cent among Democrats and more than 60 percent of Republicans disagreeing with it. This sentiment has been confirmed byNew York Times, Washington Post and Pew Research Center surveys. Nonetheless, no serious effort to overturn the ruling has emerged. The meager crowd that showed up at the Mercury confirms a supposition that, while voters disapprove, campaign spending rarely rouses much concern. They might not like it but don’t expect it to change. Justino, an attorney, offered a tutorial on the concept of corporate personhood, recounting concerns expressed by leaders including Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Dwight Eisenhower.
“Our country is ruled by corporate powers today,” Justino said. “We no longer live in a functional democracy. Plutocracy has implemented a version of corporate fascism.”
Strong stuff. Move to Amend, which proposes a two-part amendment that addresses both the corporate personhood and money-as-speech issues, has only attracted six Congressional sponsors, while re-imposing campaign spending limits enjoys far broader support.
John Paul Stevens, appointed to the Supreme Court by Gerald Ford and recently retired, dissented in Citizens United and has written “Six Amendments,” a book of proposals to strengthen the Constitution. Regarding campaign finance, he writes, “Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.” Whether or not you agree, his brief tract provides plenty of food for thought. Bernie Sanders is the lone Presidential candidate to feature campaign spending limits as a centerpiece of his platform.
The award for prescience, however, should go to Thomas Jefferson, who noted 200 years ago, ”I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Who dares talk like that today? Certainly not the Cheshire Cats in Congress working their phones for ever-larger PAC donations between committee hearings. When asked what it would take for the Move to Amend campaign to succeed, Justino replied, “When candidates fear their voters more than they do their donors.” Pardon me if I don’t hold my breath.
Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter [at] msn.com
"Billionaire Frat Party" cartoon by Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune via Cagle Cartoons.