Abolishing Money as Speech and Corporate Constitutional Rights

MTA

The fundamental threat to an authentically representative and direct democracy precedes the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission1 and other Supreme Court decisions asserting money is protected free speech to include the doctrine that corporations possess inalienable constitutional rights.

While there are multiple sources for the increasing perception, if not reality, that government isn’t responsive and accountable to citizens, the inordinate political influence and power of wealthy individuals and corporations may at the moment predominate. Any hope of attaining a political system widely perceived as legitimate and genuinely representing its citizens must include governing rules that sufficiently control the political influence and power of special interests.

Given the current political climate of profound government mistrust and widespread belief that it’s been captured by wealthy individuals and corporate entities for self-serving ends, a constitutional amendment addressing the constitutional roots of these duel threats is urgent and timely. No laws, regulations or Presidential decrees are capable of providing the essential defining authority over the overall role of money in elections and corporate entities in society.

A proposed constitutional amendment has been introduced in Congress, H.J.R 48, the We the People Amendment. It currently has 44 co-sponsors and a nationwide movement, organized by the Move to Amend campaign, behind it.

The We the People Amendment reads:

Section 1. [Artificial Entities Such as Corporations Do Not Have Constitutional Rights]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2. [Money is Not Free Speech]
Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

 

The proposed amendment’s Section 2 addresses the more familiar issue-area of money in elections. Its main element proposes abolishing the link between money and free speech, first established in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo2 decision. It goes beyond Citizens United because the corrupting role of money in politics predates Citizens United by decades.

If money is defined in elections as free speech, then those individuals and artificial entities who contribute/invest the most money possess the most speech. This drowns out the political voices of most citizens — hardly a recipe for a legitimate democracy.

Section 2 doesn’t establish any precise funding amounts or formulas. Such regulations would shift back from the judicial to the legislative branch – a more democratic arena where the public has greater influence and where regulations can be more easily adjusted as needed.

Section 1 of the proposed amendment identifies an equally important, but less publicly understood, impediment to the creation of an authentic democracy – constitutional rights to artificial legal entities (i.e. business, non-profit corporations and unions). Courts declared over the last century that sections of the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, originally intended exclusively for human persons, applied to corporate entities.

Corporate constitutional “personhood” rights have been used to overturn scores of democratically enacted laws protecting workers, communities, consumers and the environment. Most of these predated Citizens United and the First Amendment “free speech” rights bestowed on corporate entities in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti3.

While no “artificial entities” should possess Constitutional rights, they should have statutory powers and privileges. These would be defined and adjusted legislatively once inalienable rights are abolished. Like Section 2, these decisions would be shifted back where at one time they once existed from the judicial to the democratic legislative arena.

The We the People Amendment would dramatically increase the perception and reality of an authentic democracy.

Notes

1558 U.S. 310 (2010)
2424 US 1 (1976)
3435 U.S. 765 (1978)

 

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Frank Jackson Has Raised A Whole Lot More Money Than All Other Mayoral Challengers Combined

All the political cash is sickening. Am quoted in the article below, but a few points were left out: “The system of legalized bribery (e.g. campaign financing) is alive and well in Cleveland as demonstrated by Frank Jackson’s rapid rise of his campaign war chest…Legalized bribery will only end by legalizing democracy — via lower contribution limits and, ultimately, by amending the US Constitution to give voice to the needs of people and communities by abolishing the doctrines that money is constitutionally protected ‘free speech’ and corporations possess inalienable constitutional ‘personhood’ rights.”

Frank Jackson Has Raised A Whole Lot More Money Than All Other Mayoral Challengers Combined

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https://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2017/08/02/frank-jackson-has-raised-a-whole-lot-more-money-than-all-other-mayoral-challengers-combined

Electoral College Hijacks Democracy — Again

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Today is a historic day. Only 5 times in the history of the United States of America has a select number of individuals come together to overrule the will of a majority of voters who case their ballots for the President of the United States.

Those Overrulers are members of the Electoral College. Despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by over 2 million individuals, Donald Trump won the majority of “Electoral College” votes — a relic of early U.S. history established to protect the political power of slave states from “free” northern states.

We are, thus, enslaved over the next four years with being ruled by a President without a popular mandate — again. Our undemocratic Constitution has once more delegitimized and corroded what remains of our democratic republic.

Over the last six months, we’ve seen three grotesque examples of democratic people power being hijacked by the power elite (I.e. wealthy individuals and corporations):

1.    Last summer, ExxonMobil Corporation argued in court against publicly releasing documents on what they knew about the effects of human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, on climate change. Their defense was that such a release of such information was a violation of their 1st Amendment free speech, 4th Amendment search and seizure and 14th Amendment due process constitutional “rights.”

2.    Over the past two years, the impact of political contributions from the super wealthy and corporations from the Presidential level on down (or up, depending on your view) to the federal Congressional and state levels have drowned out the voices of people and constituencies trying to raise critical issues, perspectives and alternatives without access to millions of dollars to run political ads during the current election cycle. It’s nothing new. It was just worse that the previous election cycle, which was worse than the preceding cycle.

3.    The candidate for President of the United States who received two million more votes than her closest competitor lost to that competitor because of some arcane, slavery-era Constitutional provision.
Some democracy.

So what are the lessons for those dedicated to creating real democracy?

There are many, but the central one is the need to not only spend activist time, energy and resources focused on changing public officials, laws and regulations. We must also spend at least some time focusing time, energy and resources on changing or amending the many undemocratic elements of the U.S. Constitution.

How many more times will a corporation assert never-intended constitutional rights to avoid being accountable to the public and the planet before we act? How many more election cycles must we live through where the voices of huge numbers of individuals and key constituencies will not be politically heard before we act? How many more Presidents will be “elected” who receive fewer votes than their competitors before we act?

Imagine if a measly 1% of the $1.4 billion that was spent to elect Clinton was invested in a national effort to democratize the U.S. Constitution (addressing the items mentioned above and others)? That’s $14 million. Not a bad down payment for doing some democratic damage (as in positive change)!

Regarding the Electoral College, there is a short-term solution short of amending the Constitution. It’s passage in states of what’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). The idea is that states that pass this law agree to award all their electoral votes to the Presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide, regardless of the vote in participating states.  Since it’s a law, what one legislature can pass, another in the future can repeal. It’s certainly better than what we have, but not as permanent as amending the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College altogether.

It’s time to take advantage of this outrageous, but also teachable and organizing moment to fundamental (re)create real democracy by democratizing our Constitution.

A U.S. Constitution with DEMOCRACY IN MIND

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The Electoral College fiasco once again (repeat: once again) underlines the strategic need to invest at least some of our activist energies on amending the Constitution. Focusing only on creating justice, peace, and sustainability through elections, laws and regulations (whether local, state and/or federal) isn’t enough if the fundamental constitutional ground rules are rigged against We the People — which they are. Here’s a piece from a few years ago on how to “democratize” our Constitution.

A U.S. Constitution with DEMOCRACY IN MIND

[scroll down to second article]

http://poclad.org/BWA/2007/BWA_2007_MAR.html#3

Reflections on the United States Social Forums, 2015

http://poclad.org/BWA/2015/BWA_2015_Sep.html

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Temple University’s Student Center hummed with activity from June 25-28 with registration, tabling and meet-ups associated with the Philadelphia US Social Forum (USSF) 2015. The Philly Forum, organized by members of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Disabled in Action, was driven by the “understanding that people’s movements are what create social change… and a commitment to reaching far and near to lift up all community voices so that they can be heard and know they are not alone.” The gathering drew approximately 2000 people.

And on the West Coast, approximately 1800 people gathered at the Washington United Youth Center in San Jose, Ca. The anchor groups were Move To Amend, Hip Hop Congress, San Jose Peace & Justice Center, Human Agenda, Right To Survive, and Community to Community.

The third USSF differed from previous social forums in Atlanta and Detroit. It wasn’t the only Forum taking place at that time – in addition to the simultaneous event occurring in San Jose, CA there were also satellite events taking place in Jackson, MS and Tijuan, Mexico. Another change was the greater emphasis on grassroots movement building and the need to change not simply certain policies and laws but political and economic systems at the root of worsening human injustices and environmental calamities. More urgent was the need for people’s movements to counter the rapidly growing failures of political and economic power elites. Those who must assume greater leadership roles in independent but coordinated movements are those who’ve been most harmed by policies favoring the super wealthy, corporate entities and the national security state.

POCLADers Greg Coleridge and Virginia Rasmussen (in Philly) and David Cobb (in San Jose) joined folks from Move to Amend, the American Friends Service Committee and other groups to frame a number of programs related to defining democracy, building community through anti-oppression organizing, and denying constitutional rights to corporate entities. A People’s Movement Assembly (PMA) on “The People vs. the Corporations: Whose Constitution Is It?” assumed a valuable role by posing a collective challenge to the expanding economic, political, ecological and legal crises. Together participants came to realize the path to sane, humane, democratic and sustainable change must include, yet go beyond, a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and money as speech.

Essential in working for any change is imagining something better and laying out the required steps to make that vision real. We left this engaging session convinced that “We the People” are capable, indeed, of envisioning new systems for living our lives together. But until we claim the legal authority to govern ourselves so that we can put those visions in place, they will remain just that, visions.

Participating in the USSF reminded Greg of Gandhi’s statement, “The means are the ends in the making.” We can only control how we act, the steps we take in the path we are on. Precisely where it ends is impossible to determine. Don’t let that deter you. Do what you can when you can. Attend your needs when required but commit a part of your life to working in some way for fundamental change. It’s needed now more than ever.

Campaign Investments Matter

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The man who killed Eric Harris, an African American man from Tulsa Oklahoma, is an insurance company executive who contributes or invests to play cop.

Robert Bates, 73, shot Harris when he attempted to assist in his arrest as he struggled on the ground with Tulsa sheriff’s deputies. Bates accidentally pulled out his gun instead of his Taser.

Bates is a volunteer reserve Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy, part of a group of wealthy donors who make large contributions to the Tulsa Police Department. He’s donated cash, multiple vehicles, weapons, and stun guns since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008.

Bates also has contributed/invested $2500 toward his re-election campaign of Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz.  Call it an example of “pay to play” cop.

Eric Harris’ tragic and unnecessary death is yet another example of the power of private money over rational public policies. Not a trained officer, Bates was on the scene and armed for one reason alone — he had forked over large amounts of cash and other goodies. This wasn’t simply a case of buying access to an official — a Sheriff. It was buying entry into becoming a (deputy) Sheriff. How cool, right?

We know from the killings of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and other African Americans across the nation by police officers how out of control police officers can become when they are supposedly fully trained. But giving a guy a gun to “play to play” cop after limited training simply because he opened his checkbook is both a problem of “privatizing” policing and the problem of money influencing elections and elected officials.

Without the constitutional “free speech” shield that permitted Robert Bates to donate/invest to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s campaign coffers and police department, Eric Harris might have been protected from an untrained insurance exec who would be deputy sheriff.

“Money as free speech” not only kills democracy. It kills people.

Money is not speech. It’s property. Time to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it so…as well as the equally lethal doctrine that corporations are legal “persons.”

I’ve been wrong all these years

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I need to come clean. I’ve been mistaken for a long time.

For nearly two decades, I’ve educated and organized to expose and offer alternatives to the never-intended inalienable constitutional rights of corporations and the anti-democratic role of huge sums of money from wealthy individuals in political elections.

Speeches have been given, articles written, a documentary has been produced, forums held, workshops conducted, calls made, legislators lobbied and campaigns launched through the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), and Move to Amend (MTA) to inform, inspire and instigate.

One of the major points made in all the above has been that past US social movements have resulted in profound constitutional changes, including the three post Civil War amendments, which in short are:
-the 13th amendment, which ended slavery,
-the 14th amendment, which provided due process and equal protection to freed slaves, and,
-the 15th amendment, which gave black males voting rights.

To connect these social change efforts of the past with the current movement to end corporate “personhood,” I’ve frequently uttered the refrain “slavery was the legal fiction that people are property while corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property are people. The first evil was abolished. It’s time to abolish the second evil.”

Nice refrain. Unfortunately, I realize now it’s not technically true.

The 13th amendment did not abolish slavery in its entirety.

The text of the amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

It’s the exception clause of the 13th amendment that provides the constitutional cover to continue slavery in prisons.

I never made this connection until reading the the article below that the exploitation of prison labor was actually an exploitation of the second part of the 13th amendment.

America Never Abolished Slavery http://www.huffingtonpost.com/angela-f-chan/america-never-abolished-slavery_b_6777420.html

I’ve known about “slave labor” in prisons for years, but I always thought it was based on a legal loophole, never because it was “enshrined” in the U.S. Constitution — not in the original constitution mind you, but contained within a human rights “reform” amendment. Jeez, what a complete dunce I’ve been.

The implications of this are profound. For one, it means the U.S. Constitution is more anti-democratic than I thought it was — amendments and all. For another, it means that those of us promoting a MTA constitutional amendment asserting that only human beings, not corporate entities, possess inalienable constitutional rights and that political money is not free speech need to shift our thinking and messaging.

Efforts to end corporate personhood and “money as speech” can find profound common ground with the slave-like conditions in prisons. Our ultimate quest should be not to temper but to abolish slavery in prisons, abolish corporate personhood and abolish money as “free speech.” The profits generated by corporations from prison slavery and the political contributions/investments by prison corporations to politicians to lock up more and more people is inextricably connected to the imprisonment of what’s little left of our democracy due to corporate constitutional rights and money drowning out the voices of the 99%.

No longer can we make the sweeping statement that the 13th amendment is an example of an unqualified success of the mass social movement demanding an end to slavery. Moreover, that it is something to hold up in reverence in our goal for a Move to Amend 28th amendment.

Just as the call for ending slavery by a social movement was compromised once it reached constitutional amendment wording, the same pressures to water down and create “exception clauses” to completely end corporate personhood and money as speech will, no doubt, arise when our social movement forces its way inside the halls of Congress.

While I’ve been wrong about the 13th amendment, I’m not going to make the mistake to accept anything less that total abolition of corporate personhood and money as speech.