Supreme Court Aside, Corporations Aren't People
One of the most powerful statements ever written begins, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights."
Strictly speaking, of course, we are not created equal. We are born with varied capacities and into various circumstances. Our equality is in that endowment of unalienable rights by our creator.
That's the distinction lost in the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (CU). As cited by SCOTUS Blog sponsored by Bloomberg Law, the 5-4 decision held: "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."
Furthermore, "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."
It may be the single least popular decision ever handed down by the high court. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken a month after the decision was handed down found that 80 percent of Americans disagreed with the ruling, 65 percent of them strongly.
Corporations and unions are neither created nor endowed by the divine, but by men. Corporations and unions are not persons, nor is money speech. Rather, money provides access to and amplification of speech with which most ordinary Americans, those without an "Inc." behind their names, simply cannot compete.
The decision handed down in CU is an affront to democracy.
There are two possible remedies for a poor Supreme Court decision. We can hope that over time the composition of the court changes so that some future challenge might overturn the decision, or it can be overturned by a constitutional amendment.
Online petitions for such an amendment abound. Predictably, MoveOn.org has a petition generally supporting such an amendment, as does Change.org. Others like GetMoneyOut.org and MoveToAmend.org offer petitions in support of their own particular proposals.
There are a number of bills circulating in Congress for amendments overturning CU. Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Michael Bennett introduced a bill last month that would overturn CU. As Sen. Udall explained on his website, "We cannot stand idly by and watch our elections be fundamentally degraded by a flood of unaccountable money into the system."
Vermont independent Bernie Sanders introduced one called the "Saving American Democracy Amendment." Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and a Michigan colleague have introduced a version that would give Congress "the right to impose content--neutral restrictions" on campaign spending by -corporations. Edwards cited the fourfold increase in spending by corporations in the 2010 elections after the CU ruling in proposing her bill.
That these bills are popping up in the wake of the Occupy movement is no coincidence. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida actually named his proposal "Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy," or OCCUPIED. Deutch just earned his black belt in pandering.
Pandering might be all there is to these proposals. Passing a constitutional amendment is no easy matter. They require a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature and then three-fourths of the state legislatures to pass. Both of those requirements seem unlikely in the cash-fueled, highly partisan environment we live in today. It is likely that these bills represent little more than politicians playing to popular sentiment in an election year.
Regardless, "we, the people," should pursue this course. We should demand that our senators and congressmen support and actively work on an amendment now. And next year, after Nov. 6, when they have forgotten this strategy to entice us, we should remind them and hold their feet to the fire.
Where access to speech is determined by who can pay for it, speech is not free. Where "legal entities" have access to power superior to that of flesh and blood, men are not free. Personhood must belong to people, and only to people.
It is not the nature of power to share or relinquish power willingly. If we are to reclaim our natural endowment, we must demand our power be restored to us. Let your senators and congressmen know.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at email@example.com.
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