NEWPORT — Passing a constitutional amendment is one of the highest bars to clear in U.S. politics.
An amendment must be passed by two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and Senate and then ratified by three-fourths of the states. A second method, which has never resulted in an amendment, involves convening a Constitutional Convention.
The long odds have not deterred Move to Amend, a nonpartisan organization whose aim is to “firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”
Keyan Bliss, grassroots volunteer co-coordinator at the group’s national headquarters in Sacramento, described its mission during a presentation Sunday night in the Channing Memorial Church parish hall. He also led the audience through the history of the Supreme Court imbuing corporations with rights that Move to Amend argues should not belong to them.
The organization is fighting to amend the Constitution to “unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns,” it states on its website.
Twelve people started Move to Amend after the Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 21, 2010, in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The ruling held that political spending is protected by the First Amendment free-speech clause and that the government “may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections,” according to a summary of the 5-4 decision. “While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.”
Bliss stressed that Move to Amend’s goals extend beyond arguing that money is not speech to include stripping corporations of rights that should only apply to humans. “It’s easy to get too focused on the first goal” regarding political contributions, he explained.
Move to Amend’s website quotes former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who stated in his dissent to the Citizens United case that ”... corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
The Supreme Court has a well-established history of “preferring corporate interests over we the people,” Bliss said.
The organization has grown to be a partnership of more than 450,000 people and hundreds of organizations, according to its website. Ratifying what it wants to be the Constitution’s 28th Amendment is still a steep climb.
Bliss mentioned the group’s tactics, such as educating the public, lobbying politicians to make the pledge supporting the amendment and getting local legislation toward that end.
Paul Roselli, a Democrat running for governor, told the roughly 50 people in attendance that he supports the move.
Bliss encouraged attendees to form a Newport affiliate organization to do the local grassroots work. He also passed around a bucket to collect donations, saying that 90 percent of the organization’s budget comes from donations totaling $40 or less.
dgomes [at] newportri.com