Mining Montanans' Experience to Create Authentic Democracy
Everyone concerned about the future of our republic can learn from the historic struggles of Montanans to resist corporate power. Corporate mining interests not long after the Civil War began plundering not only the land at enormous profit, but plundered democracy though control of both government and the media. Among the democratic responses was the sweeping 1912 state Corrupt Practices Act that outlawed corporate political contributions.
The 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed wealthy individuals and corporate interests to spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections. More money than ever cascaded into elections, including through tax-exempt “social welfare” groups that shielded sources and amounts. The sickening impact of this “dark money,” powerfully described in the new film by the same name, has been widely felt by Montana residents, voters, and state officials who become the target of distorted mass mailers and media ads when they buck out-of-state corporate interests.
When corporate front groups sought to overturn the century-old Corrupt Practices Act based on Citizens United, state officials, backed by Montanans, defended it in state courts and before the Supreme Court. The same Justices who supported Citizens United, however, ruled for the corporations.
Past commitment and energy by Montanans to challenge corporate rule is still urgent today. The recent state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) decision against Hecla Mining corporation for violating the state’s “bad actor” law targeting individuals and companies that abandon polluted sites is an important action. Hecla has already filed suit against the DEQ and will certainly use every available corporate legal maneuver to avoid responsibility.
There’s a connection between needing to clean up land from past and current corporate mining and needing to clean up our legal systems. Both require digging deep to remove toxins.
In the case of our legal system, the bedrock of our laws is the U.S. Constitution. Several undemocratic provisions of our founding document that prioritized property rights over human rights have been abolished through constitutional amendment. The High Court, however, continues to rule that corporations have constitutional rights.
There’s growing public anger and new movements against the seemingly omnipotent power of corporations. One of these movements, Move to Amend, proposes the We the People Amendment that would end all corporate constitutional rights and establish that money is not free speech.
While focus on elections and lawmaking are important, making our constitution more fair and just is at least equally important. Overwhelming voter support of the 2012 Montana Corporate Constitutions Initiative (I-166) sent a powerful message, but its reversal in court was guaranteed in a legally toxic environment where corporations possess constitutional rights.
The decline of political power of We the People began long before Citizens United. Money spent in elections shielded by constitutional “free speech” rights is simply one way corporate entities have reversed hundreds of democratically passed laws to protect workers, consumers, communities and the environment.
Corporations have been granted many other constitutional rights and provisions – 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments and the Commerce and Contracts clauses – to hijack authentic self-governance. Even other parts of the 1st Amendment (i.e. the corporate right not to speak and religious rights) have prevented consumers from knowing the poisons in their food and resulted in the Hobby Lobby decision denying employees health care coverage.
Merely reversing Citizens United or even ending political free speech rights would allow corporations to return to abusing previously granted constitutional rights — and likely to concoct new ones.
Past and present successes and challenges of Montanans resisting corporate rule provide important lessons for those involved in the growing national democracy movement to end all never-intended corporate constitutional rights.
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Greg Coleridge is Outreach Director of the national Move to Amend Coalition, https://movetoamend.org/. He will be speaking at a public program about money in elections, corporate power and democracy on Saturday, April 28 at 11 AM at the Lewis & Clark Library 120 S Last Chance Gulch St, in Helena.
Outreach Director, Move to Amend Coalition
(216) 255-2184 (cell - in Ohio)
(916) 318-8040 (office - in Sacramento, CA)
End Corporate Rule. Legalize Democracy. Move to Amend.