“In a democracy, the people rule.” – John Harwood, North Shore Move to Amend
On October 25, twelve people rallied around a rotary on the North Shore, holding signs that called for a constitutional amendment to clarify that “Corporations are not people.” One woman at the rally, Loretta, shared her reason for being there: “‘Citizens United’ corrupts our government, our democracy, and ensures people don’t really have a voice.”
In January 2010 the Supreme Court made a 5-4 decision in the case Citizen’s United v Federal Election Commission. The decision gave corporations First Amendment rights by stating that (1) money was protected as speech and that (2) Congress could not limit or regulate corporate spending in the 60 days leading up to a general election. The official SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) blog introduces the decision with this preamble:
Holding: Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. 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.
As a result, wealthy individuals can use their money to influence voters without needing to disclose such spending – and therefore are free from public scrutiny.
For instance, Sheldon Adelson, the twelfth richest person in the US, voluntarily disclosed that he has spent $54.44 million on super PACs, according to the Huffington Post. Demos, an issue and policy advocacy group, found that of the millions of dollars raised by Super PACs in 2011, a mere 196 people accounted for almost 80% of all donations made (with each of those people giving at least $100,000). Compare that to the 217,342,419 registered voters in the US in 2010, as counted by the United States Election Project, and you’ll see that a mere .000092% of the voting population controls a vast portion of the campaign financing.
The first special-interest group to capitalize on the Citizens United ruling has been “Americans United for Life Action,” the “legislative action arm” of an anti-abortion advocacy group. The organization ran a series of radio ads and other media stating that Congressmen John Boccieri, Chris Carney and Baron Hill “must be defeated.”
Who are these politicians? In 2010 Democratic Congressman Boccieri pushed for legislation “to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require…communications which are paid for by certain tax-exempt organizations or political organizations to include a statement naming their five largest donors…”
This act never became law. He lost the 2010 election.
Congressman Carney advocated for universal healthcare. He was defeated. Congressman Hill voted against the Wall Street bailout in 2008 and was interviewed in Michael Moore’s film “Capitalism: A Love Story.” He was defeated as well. Despite “Citizens United” becoming law only in 2010, the power of unrestricted campaign financing can already be demonstrated by many such stories.
Since Congress failed to pass Senate Bill 772, which would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballots to overturn “Citizens United,” grassroots organizations have been working to pass the resolution town by town across the country. Two groups in particular, Move to Amend and the Free Speech for People Organization, have led the effort to get the so-called “Democracy Amendment” on many ballots on November 6. The proposed amendment reads:
1. Corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as human beings.
2. Congress and the states can place limits on political contributions and spending.
At the October 25 rally on the North Shore, another activist, Frank, stated his beief that although it is “not a binding referendum, this proposition is instructive to legislators about public opinion. The goal, even if it takes ten years, is to amend the constitution.”
Other agreed. Kathy, an organizer for the North Shore Move to Amend, commented, “I’m a mother of two kids. I want democracy to last. It’s why friends died in wars. It’s why I talked about this country as being the best in the world. I don’t want to leave this country this way to my kids.” Winnie, a grandmother, shared the vision: “I have three kids and four grandchildren. Let’s leave this country better.” Sandra, another woman at the rally expressed fear, saying, “I am terrified by what I see as a lack of conscience on the part of corporations. This is something I can do.”
On November 6, 30% of the towns in Massachusetts, as well as many others across the country, will have this question on the ballot. The message of the referendum’s supporters is clear: Vote “Yes” on the Democracy Amendment and help save our government and our country.
(Image by Kip Lyall)