Yes: People, not corporations, should have ultimate say in a democracy
By GEORGE PENN
In the wake of the horrendous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United and other campaign finance cases, we desperately need to amend the U.S. Constitution not just to clarify the regulations in this field, but much more importantly, to give democracy a fighting chance.
The fundamental problem our democracy faces is that “We, the People” are no longer represented. Elected officials represent the funders of their campaigns, not the voters in their districts. Our voices, as citizens, are being drowned out in a sea of big money and dark money.
The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission said that corporations, unions, and other groups can spend unlimited amounts of their money to support or trash candidates for office.
The majority opinion contained two patently false assertions.
First, it said: “Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
And then, it added: “The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”
What planet were those justices living on?
The electorate, in poll after poll, understands that the game is rigged, and that corporations have way too much influence over our politicians. Last month, the Pew Research Center found that “most Americans think that those who donate a lot of money to elected officials have more political influence than others. An overwhelming majority (77 percent) supports limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns and issues.”
But it’s not just the Citizens United decision.
The problem goes back to 1888 in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, where the Supreme Court in a headnote declared that corporations were persons.
In 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court said, essentially, that money was speech.
In 2007, in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, the Supreme Court said that so-called issue ads can’t be banned in the lead up to elections, which has given rise to a tidal wave of dark money.
And in the 2014 McCutcheon decision, the Court said you couldn’t impose aggregate limits on individual donations, which has let the super rich throw their money around all over the place.
All these decisions combined have taken the power away from the vast majority of citizens and solidified power in the hands of super-wealthy individuals and corporations.
The only way to rectify this fundamental problem is to amend the U.S. Constitution and proclaim, once and for all, that a corporation is not a person and money isn’t speech.
Only such an amendment would allow our elected officials to impose common-sense regulations on the big-money spenders during election time. Only such an amendment would give us our power back and our voice back.
Until we pass such an amendment, the democracy-killing, corrupt, big-money political system will continue to represent the corporations and monied elites rather than “We, the People.”
The framers of our Constitution were keenly aware of the risk of big money undermining our Republic.
James Madison wrote: “The day will come when our Republic will be an impossibility because wealth will be concentrated in the hands of a few. When that day comes, then we must rely upon the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the laws of the nation.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Our Revolutionary War arose from the same situation we have today: taxation without representation. And by the way, the Constitution does not once mention the word “corporation.”
And yet, the corporations and super-wealthy dominate our political system today. To a huge extent, they determine who gets elected, and what laws are passed, and what policies are enacted in opposition to the needs and wants of “We, the People.”
Fortunately, the framers of the Constitution gave us, the people, the power to amend the Constitution.
We urgently need to exercise that power. “We, the People,” should be the ones who control our government, not the corporations.
The good news is there is a mass, grassroots movement around the country to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.
Nineteen states are already on board. And 775 communities around the country have already passed referendums endorsing such a constitutional amendment.
James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would be proud of this movement. It holds the key to rescuing our democracy.
George Penn is a member of Wisconsin United to Amend, a nonpartisan grassroots group building the movement to reclaim the republic from big-money politics. Anyone interested in establishing such a group in Illinois is welcome to contact Penn through www.wiuta.org or at [email protected]