First hour: Greg Coleridge and Sally Hanley of “Move to “Amend” a national organization- that seeks to put an amendment in front of congress.
Greg Coleridge / February 26, 2019 / Brecksville, Ohio
Happy Democracy Day! Congratulations once more to the citizens of Brecksville for voting for a ballot initiative in 2012 calling on Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to end corporate rule and big money in elections by declaring that corporations don’t have constitutional rights and money spent in elections is not equal to political free speech.
Big problems require big solutions. The amendment is a big solution.
While much deserving attention tonight will be devoted to one piece of this proposed amendment – the impact of money in elections from the super wealthy and corporate entities, it’s not the only fundamental problem this amendment would fundamentally solve. The other problem is corporate rule or governance. Ending all corporate constitutional rights goes beyond corporate influence in elections to corporate power in direct rule making.
Inalienable rights apply to human beings. The Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment affirmed certain rights to human persons, not to corporations.
Corporations aren’t mentioned in the Constitution. Originally, they came into existence when sovereign state legislatures granted charters one at a time with clearly defined functions. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. No voter, citizen, social movement or elected official has ever granted corporations constitutional rights. Rather, it’s been activist Supreme Court Justices taking their cues time and again from corporate attorneys.
So, what’s been the impact of the corporate hijack of the Constitution? It’s been lethal on people, communities and our democratic republic.
Corporations have hijacked 1st Amendment “free speech” rights beyond the right to donate to political elections. The never intended corporate 1st amendment right NOT to speak has, for example, preempted passed laws informing consumers whether or not toxins are in their food. Never intended corporate 1st amendment “religious” rights have prevented women employees from receiving health care coverage because it violated the religious right of the business corporation – not the owners — but the corporation.
Corporations have hijacked 4th Amendment “search on seizure” rights. The courts have overturned democratically enacted laws and regulations requiring mandatory inspections of corporate property to ensure worker safety or environmental protections. Corporate rights have preempted these community rights to protect workers and the environment.
Corporations have hijacked 5th Amendment “takings” rights. Courts have overturned regulations ensuring the protection of homes, land and communities from a corporate action – claiming that regulations are “takings” and must be compensated. Thus, corporate property rights have preempted personal property rights.
Corporate have hijacked the 14th Amendment due process and equal protection rights – rights that were intended to apply at the end of the civil war solely to freed slaves. Laws passed by local communities that, for example, support local businesses that keep jobs and money recycling in the community over mega chain stores have been overturned by courts as “discriminatory” under the 14th Amendment.
And corporations have hijacked the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The power of local public officials to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and the community have by the scores been preempted by corporations claiming that, for instance, toxic waste is commerce and therefore legally permissible to be dumped in a community’s backyard. Efforts by farmers and rural communities in many states against agribusinesses or initiatives that mandate only those who farm the land can own the land have been overturned by the courts as a violation of the Commerce Clause in favor of corporations.
Systemic problems require systemic solutions.
Yet, paradoxically, this amendment is extremely conservative because it advocates returning to a system where questions of money in elections and the relationship between corporations and people are no longer decided in the judicial arena (the courts) but are shifted back to the legislative arena – where they once were decided — where We the People have greater power.
It’s no wonder small businesses, family farmers, and local public officials support this amendment and why citizens across the country who have had a chance to vote on these initiatives like you did in Brecksville vote yes – by the hundreds – because it promotes the fundamental democratic right to decide.
Passing a constitutional amendment that not only ends political money defined as free speech but also ends all constitutional rights will help create real democracy. Awareness is spreading, as is the support because our rising fundamental problems require people to rise up for fundamental change.
It’s nice to have a Democracy Day. But I’m for — and I hope you are as well — real democracy year round.
Introduction and remarks begins at about the 18:30 mark.
Conducted in Des Moines, Iowa on December 6.
by Greg Coleridge
The midterm elections are over. Candidates have been elected and unelected. Ballot issues have been passed and rejected.
What hasn’t changed one iota, however, are the catastrophic harms to people, communities, the natural world and our republican form of self-government caused by the assertion of constitutional rights for corporations, and by political campaign money being defined as First Amendment-protected free speech.
Many believe these problems began with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v FEC decision. It’s true that Citizens United further opened the monetary floodgates onto political elections. The Court asserted that the First Amendment’s free speech clause prohibits government restrictions of “independent expenditures” for political communications by for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations, labor unions and other groups.
Since the Supreme Court had previously ruled that corporations were “persons” with free speech rights, corporate funds could now be raised in unlimited sums for “independent” communication (i.e. candidate advertisements by entities that are not coordinated with the candidate). A separate federal court decision based on Citizens United lifted the same legal restrictions on individuals.
The result has frequently been stomach-turning attack ads from across the ideological spectrum that distort the truth about candidates and issues. In addition, when money determines who has access to the podiums, microphones and loudspeakers in an arena, the voices of people and groups without money are relegated to the hallways, basements and back alleys.
The $200 million-plus spent on the Illinois governor’s race, much of it from the wealthy candidates themselves, typifies further movement away from a republican form of self-government and towards a plutocracy (i.e. rule of, by and for the wealthy). Corporate spending on election advertising in Illinois and elsewhere, much of it untraceable “dark money,” represents a second parallel threat—corptocracy (i.e. rule of, by and for corporations).
More than reversing Citizens United is needed to create fair and democratic elections and more than fair and democratic elections are needed to create a legitimate republican form of self-government in which We the People rule.
Our government is broken because the system is fixed—as in rigged to benefit the super-wealthy and corporations. The core problems are the constitutional “rights” anointed by the Supreme Court on corporations and on money spent in elections—both of which predate Citizens United.
Corporations weren’t intended by this nation’s founders to become the governing institution in our country and world. Corporations are creations of government, originally chartered one at a time by legislative acts, which listed specific legal protections and privileges to create useful goods and services, but not with inalienable constitutional rights. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. Corporations that violated their charter provisions regularly had those charters revoked by state legislatures or state courts. We the People were sovereign, corporate creations of the state were subordinate.
No corporation was immune, even the most powerful ones. A Republican state Attorney General sought to revoke Standard Oil Corporation’s charter in 1892 for disregarding its provisions.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in a 1900 ruling to dissolve a dairy company, stated: “The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.”
Corporations worked strategically to shift democratic control over to the corporate form in three ways: from the state to the federal level, from the legislative arena to regulatory agencies, and from the legislative arena to the courts. All three strategies sought to move corporate definition beyond the reach of the public and, thus, undermine our republican form of self-government.
The most effective approach was to shield corporate actions by the Supreme Court. Despite the Constitution not mentioning corporations and the Bill of Rights meant to solely apply to human beings, corporate attorneys argued that constitutional rights applied to their clients. Activist Supreme Courts agreed and concocted for over a century corporate constitutional rights out of thin air.
Corporate constitutional rights now include First Amendment free speech and religion, Fourth Amendment freedom from search and seizure, Fifth Amendment freedom from takings, Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection, and Commerce and Contracts Clause “rights.”
These never-intended rights have allowed corporations to hijack our republican form of self-government well beyond influencing elections through their “right” to make political donations. These include the rights:
- to advertise dangerous products (i.e. cigarettes and fracking) over the objections of communities and to avoid labeling genetically modified foods;
- to avoid subpoenas that would compel testimony about unlawful trade and price fixing, and the right to prevent citizens, communities and regulatory agencies from stopping pollution and other assaults on people or communities;
- to receive compensation when regulations are established to protect homeowners or communities, including the right to be compensated for all possible future profits they may have made without such regulations;
- to build chain stores and erect cell towers against the will of communities, oppose tax and other public policies favoring local businesses over multinational corporations and resist democratic efforts to prevent corporate mergers and revoke corporate charters through citizen initiatives; and
- to ship toxic waste between states over the “health, safety, and welfare” objections of communities – claiming the waste isn’t actually “waste” but “commerce.”
Corporate constitutional rights are just one head of our anti-democratic hydra. The other is the constitutional protection of political money defined as free speech. This dates to the 1976 Buckley v Valeo decision. If money is political speech, as the Supreme Court stated, then those with the most money have the most speech. This is not an ingredient for anything approaching a republican form of self-government, more likely for a plutocracy.
No presidential decree, legislative statute or regulation can end corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech. The only solution is a constitutional amendment.
Move to Amend is a national non-partisan coalition of hundreds of organizations and over 450,000 individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests.
It calls for the We the People Amendment (H.J.R. 48) to the Constitution, declaring that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, not to mere legal entities, and that money is not a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns. Sixty-five U.S. House Representatives have endorsed H.J.R. 48. It will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate. More than 750 communities have passed either local or state resolutions or ballot measures calling for such an Amendment.
Building an authentically multicultural, intergenerational and transpartisan grassroots democracy movement is the only realistic route toward this end. This currently seems pie-in-the-sky. Yet we’re now facing profound political, economic, social and environmental crises. None of this is sustainable. Limits are rapidly being reached. What seems impossible at the moment can quickly become inevitable. Our visions have been repressed by our dominant culture about what is doable, realistic and inevitable – not to mention what is just, democratic and sustainable.
A Move to Amend-sponsored public program recently took place in Champaign-Urbana. There’s interest in exploring what can be done locally to join this growing national movement. If interested in joining this exploration, contact Doug Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Coleridge is Outreach Director at Move to Amend. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Seems like an appropriate time to share this tidbit in light of GM’s decision this week to close plants and layoff 14,000 workers…
“On January 10, 1997, President William Jefferson Clinton sent a letter to the mayor of Toledo, Ohio. The mayor had asked the president for help in getting the Chrysler Corporation to build a new Jeep factory within Toledo city limits to replace the ancient one which Chrysler Corporation was closing.
“The President of the United States, leader of the most powerful nation the world has ever known, elected head of a government always eager to celebrate the uniqueness of its democracy to the point of forcing it upon other nations, wrote:
‘As I am sure you know, my Administration cannot endorse any potential location for the new production site. My Intergovernmental Affairs staff will be happy to work with you once the Chrysler Board of Directors has made its decision.’
“Our president may not have a clue, but We the People did not grant away our sovereignty when we made Chrysler into a corporation.
“When we gave the Chrysler Corporation authority to manufacture automobiles, we made the people of Toledo not its subjects, nor Chrysler Corporation their supreme authority.
“How long shall We the People, the sovereign people, stand hat in hand outside corporate boardrooms waiting to be told our fate? How long until we instruct our representatives to do their constitutional duty?
“How long until we become responsible, until we become accountable, to our forebears, to ourselves, to our children, to other peoples and species, and to the Earth.”
From “Corporations, Accountability, and Responsibility,” by Richard Grossman in Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy: A Book of History & Strategy, Edited by Dean Ritz, Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), p. 141-2.