The Need For A Constitutional Amendment

Can we keep our democracy in the face of Citizen’s United?  Gar Byrum argues that we can only if we have a constitutional amendment removing corporate money from elections.

By Gar Byrum

It is now nearly two years since the Citizens United decision was made by the Supreme Court (in a 5-4 vote recall.)  The immediately following 2010 elections showed a dramatic increase of corporate expenditures to political committees. With the 2012 presidential cycle upon us it would not be surprising if we see another and even larger increase in corporate contributions. These contributions lack transparency, as we the people do not know who is making them.

Justice Stevens warned that nonresidents may be controlling these expenditures and they may, indeed, have differing interests
than the eligible voters of a particular state.

A movement is underway to address the issue of Citizens United through a Constitutional Amendment.

Representative Edwards, of Maryland, has introduced into the House of Representatives her version of an amendment. Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC has introduced on his television show an amendment that citizens can support by going to a web site. Over 187,000 people have signed in support in a brief period of time. Move to Amend professes their wish to answer Citizens United with an amendment but they have not written one as of yet.

Our institute has put forth for discussion the principles necessary for an amendment. (See Proposed Principles For A Constitutional Amendment)

The question has been raised as to whether or not an amendment is necessary. In some quarters there is resistance to that proposition,
in that it is felt that one should not tinker with the First Amendment. The thinking goes that there are legislative solutions that would weaken Citizens United's effect. The suggested legislation would require transparency, a measure by which the voters would be made aware of who made the contributions. Other ideas include the suggestion that Congress should require that shareholders must approve of their company making a particular contribution to a political committee.

These ideas have merit - but both suggestions are fraught with problems. Since Washington is full of lobbyists who influence Congress, the political reality is that it is doubtful that Congress would have the courage to go against their corporate benefactors and vote to limit the power of corporations

In our nation’s history we have seen other Supreme Court decisions that have taken away rights from the people. The Dred Scott v Sandford case and Plessy v Ferguson are examples of that. In Dred Scott, slaves were considered property and not people, and Plessy held erroneously that separate could be equal.

Now in Citizen’s United we are told that corporations are people with the same rights as citizens in the matter of our election process. The decision was a huge step backwards for democracy as it gave to corporations the same status as voters in elections.

It took time but eventually the 14th Amendment was passed -  and laws were passed in Congress that insured that all citizens cold vote irrespective of race.

The passage of an amendment is necessary once again to seek to remedy an injustice and insure that the First Amendment protects citizens in their right to speak. The founders lived in a world quite different than today with no political parties, no television or radio nor Internet. They would be shocked by the court's decision to create a legal status for a non-human, equal to that of a citizen. The majority opinion strains logic and credibility. Free speech in our election process belongs to those who vote.

The majority of the court claimed that speech would be stilled if corporations were not allowed to donate money to political committees. But of course the corporation’s ability to speak on political matters would not be chilled for they already possess the power to speak their collective minds via lobbying and via their access to the media. The truth is that citizens cannot compete with corporations because citizens lack the resources to be on an equal footing with corporations in hiring lobbyists and getting ideas into the public domain and thereby in influencing legislation and electing officials. Thereby our ability as citizens to speak is chilled by the corrosive and corrupting influence of corporate money.

Corporate political expenditures do thereby undermine our ability to self govern and threaten the very existence of our Republic by weakening the integrity of our election process.

What can we do to combat this horrible decision that endangers our democracy?  We are left with one choice, and that is to pass a Constitutional Amendment that will state that corporations are not members of society. That, in fact, they are not citizens or natural persons and are not thereby imbued with the same inalienable rights as we citizens. Corporations cannot vote, nor can they run for office and should thereby be regulated as they have been since the Tillman Act was passed in 1907. We owe it to our fellow citizens to fight against the corrosive and corrupting influence of corporate money and power. It is our duty to do so.