By: Barbara Theroux
Fact & Fiction
for Headwaters News
Feb. 24, 2012
The citizens of Missoula, Montana, hereby urge the Montana State Legislature and the United States Congress to amend the United States Constitution to clearly state that corporations are not human beings and do not have the same rights as citizens.
Missoula City Referendum
from the Official Municipal General Nonpartisan Ballot
Nov. 8, 2011
In November 2011, I began to seriously investigate what was behind the process to amend the U.S. Constitution because of the Missoula ballot issue. I agreed that corporations are not people, but when The Independent, a local weekly newspaper, urged people not to vote for the resolution and gave a caution about First Amendment rights, I was astounded.
What had I missed? I turned to Chris Finan at the offices of American Booksellers For Free Expression and discovered I had indeed missed quite a few warnings, communications and even a live debate at Book Expo America in 2010. What I learned was that both sides in the debate over campaign finance restrictions believe that they are defending free speech.
The book Corporations Are Not People answered a few questions. It helped me see where Citizens United, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave free speech rights to corporations and invited billions of corporate dollars into American elections, came from; examined what a corporation is; and gave three steps to roll back corporate dominance of government.
In 2010, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee, the U.S. Supreme Court proclaimed that the American people are not permitted to determine how much control corporations may have over elections and lawmakers.
The Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down as unconstitutional a federal election law designed to prevent corporations from dominating the outcome of elections. This law was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (also known as McCain-Feingold, after its Republican and Democratic sponsors). The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act banned "electioneering" spending by corporations--and only corporations--for or against specific candidates within 60 days of a federal election. The law was intended to prevent corporations from bypassing a longstanding prohibition on corporate political contributions to candidates, passed in 1907.
The case is called Citizens United because a Virginia nonprofit corporation by that name sued the Federal Election Commission to challenge the corporate spending restriction in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Citizens United wanted to gain a wider audience for its film, Hillary: The Movie, during Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency. The film had already been distributed to theaters and on DVD, but Citizens United wanted to make it available as an on-demand video.
McCain-Feingold bans corporate electioneering communications only on broadcast, cable and satellite networks. Since Hillary is critical of Clinton and it is a felony to violate the McCain-Feingold law, Citizens United went to court seeking an injunction to prevent the Federal Elections Commission from punishing it, saying the federal law violated its First Amendment right of free speech.
The court ruled the film was a form of electioneering communication and denied the request for an injunction. Citizens United appealed and the case reached the Supreme Court.
Since the decision, Citizens United has been widely recognized as a notorious and dangerous mistake by the Court. The first alarm was sounded by the four dissenting justices. Justice John Paul Stephens read his dissent aloud in the Court's public chamber, calling the decision "a radical departure from what has been settled First Amendment law."
At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate the common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.
The current history of corporate rights and power, dates to the 1970's. Clements claims that was the beginning of: job outsourcing, destruction of manufacturing capacity, wage stagnation, uncontrolled military spending, endless wars to secure energy supplies, out-of-control health care, national and global environmental crisis, loss of wilderness and open land, chain store sprawl, and obesity, asthma and public health epidemics.
The First Earth Day in 1970 awakened our government to the necessity of restoring the balance of corporate power and public interest. The Environmental Protection Agency was created. Laws enacted included the Clean Water Act, Wilderness Act, Endangered Species Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The first fuel economy standards for motor vehicles were set. Laws addressing race and gender equality, real wage growth, global leadership in trade and commerce and manufacturing, manageable debt and budgets, and employee rights and safety were passed and the Vietnam war ended.
Into this mix of 70's corporate growth and activism came Joe Camel; Monsanto and Vermont dairy farmers; the Chamber of Commerce and Richard Nixon's appointment of Lewis Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to his appointment, Powell was a director of many international corporations, including Philip Morris, Inc. He wrote key corporate rights decisions that transformed the people's First Amendment freedoms into a corporate right to challenge public oversight and corporate regulation.
Fast forward to 2011, corporations are flexing their power and Occupy Wall Street encourages people to organize, the 99 percent are saying enough is enough.
As I began writing this review there was constant press about campaign spending, a Montana Supreme Court decision, Montana’s U.S. senators speaking for a Constitutional amendment, and the Montana ACLU speaking against the Citizens United decision. These are indeed interesting times; there is much to debate and much to learn.
Clements suggests there are three things to be done: pass the 28th Amendment; pass corporate accountability and law reform; and pass election law reform. Educate yourself on the issues, decide how you want to vote, it's your right under the First Amendment.
Barbara Theroux is the manager of Fact & Fiction, now part of the Bookstore at the University of Montana.