A national effort supporters say would amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate "corporate personhood" came to downtown San Jose this afternoon, where supporters gathered to push for the passage of a measure on the November ballot that could lend the state's support in making the change.
About 30 people stood outside the Old Courthouse at the corner of North First and West St. James streets where they kicked off their campaign for Proposition 59.
"We want money out of politics. Corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as people," said Anne Wilson, spokeswoman for the proposition on the county level.
"This is not against corporations, it's about getting an even playing field for the people," Wilson said.
If passed, the measure would allow the state Legislature to ratify an amendment that would announce its support in amending the Constitution to say only people have constitutional rights, Move to Amend National Director Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap said.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court interprets corporations as people under dozens of decisions, one of the first being the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case heard in 1886 at the Old Courthouse where it was ruled that corporations had equal protection as a person under the law, Sopoci-Belknap said.
One of the more recent decisions came in 2010 under the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that overturned the McCain-Feingold Act, a campaign finance law, and gave government limited oversight over corporations and people, she said.
There have been 16 states that have passed resolutions supportive of the amendment since the effort began in 2010 and Washington state also has a similar ballot measure on the November ballot, Sopoci-Belknap said.
The group's efforts are focused on gaining state support for the amendment that would need to pass by a two-thirds vote in Congress and three-quarters majority of states, according to Sopoci-Belknap.
Corporations' influence over the legislative process with money has drowned out voters' voices, said Money Out of Politics founder Bruce Preville.
"We cannot continue to have a representative democracy unless we get this dark money out of politics," San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra said.
If the measure doesn't pass, special interests will continue to have influence over policies, such as ones surrounding the environment and labor, that affect the country's direction, the city councilman said.
Kalra, who's running for state Assembly in November, brought a resolution passed by the City Council last year indicating the city's support in the effort.
One opponent of the proposition is the Sacramento-based League of Women Voters of California that supports protecting a representative democracy, but doesn't agree that the amendment should be changed so corporations don't have constitutional rights as people, according to a statement on the group's website.
Such a change would rob nonprofits and other corporations of their protections under the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, according to the statement.
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, have signed their names to an argument in the state's official voter guide against the proposition that they say would affect many corporations including churches and social media companies and make way for Congress to "tinker" with the First Amendment.