Overturning Citizens United will NOT End Money as Speech NOR Corporate Personhood

A coalition of Arkansas public interest groups are circulating a petition to “get big money out of politics,” as claimed by its advocates. Their goal is to collect sufficient signatures to place on November 2016 ballot a measure calling for a Constitutional Amendment. The Amendment would overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision.

There is no doubt awareness of the antidemocratic role big money from wealthy individuals and corporate entities plays in public elections. Actions and campaigns are launching and spreading. It’s hard to keep up with all that’s occurring. People are fed up with the obscene amount of money in elections. More are figuring out the power of corporations to influence public policies — with Fast Track/TPP being merely the latest grotesque example. Who at the grassroots, after all, is clamoring FOR Fast Track?

A recent New York Times article summarizing the public money in elections mood:
Poll Shows Americans Favor an Overhaul of Campaign Financing

It shows that a stunning 39% of those polled favor fundamental changes in the campaign financing system and another 46% want a complete rebuild — or 85% for major changes.

It’s important, however, to be clear what the Arkansas proposal constitutionally is and what it isn’t.

It seeks to overturn Citizens United, which would prevent corporate entities (business corporations, unions and non-profits) from spending unlimited sums of money “independently” (i.e. not in coordination with candidates) via Super PACs and 501 (c )4 social welfare organizations.

That’s great as an initial step. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes.

This will not “get big money out of politics.” And it doesn’t end corporate personhood.

Overturning Citizens United alone:

– Still permits corporate entities to funnel money into politics via conventional PACs (Political Action Committees).

– Doesn’t reverse the McCutcheon decision of last year which “limited” aggregate contribution limits from a wealthy contributor to $46,000 for federal candidates and $70,800 for political parties. Wealthy contributors following McCutcheon can now donate (or invest) the maximum individual limit per candidate to EVERY candidate running for elected office across the nation.

-Will also not affect the December 2014 federal law expanding contribution limits to political parties from $194,000 to $1.5 million.

-Will not overturn the Buckley v Valeo 1986 decision equating money as “free speech.”

-Will not reverse the corporate constitutional right “not to speak” which is being used as a legal defense in Vermont by corporations against having to label products containing genetically modified organisms.

-Doesn’t reverse the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision establishing corporations as possessing “religious beliefs,” nor any of the other constitutional doctrines establishing corporations as legal “persons,” which in a variety of ways has superseded fundamental self-determination.

The Arkansas effort and those like it elsewhere are without a doubt more doable and winnable than the Move to Amend approach because they seek to pick off the “lowest hanging fruit.” They are using Citizens United not as merely the latest instance of a very long history of examples of misuse and abuse of Supreme Court decisions to solidify power and control by the few over the many, but instead framing the case as the only instance. If presented as the only basic problem, then, of course, solving it via a constitutional amendment is basically the only required solution.

With so much going on, so many separate critiques of the problem and so many various strategies for change, it’s important to take the time to reflect and assess. Not all strategies are the same. Some are not what they say they are. The more we can understand the approaches (specifically, the plusses and minus of each), the better change agents we become.


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