By Greg Colvin, cross-posted from Campaign For America's Future
As the struggle in the streets intensifies, and Occupy Wall Street
refuses to remain silent, it’s good to know there are champions in
Congress who have stepped up to the challenge of amending the US
Constitution. It’s called OCCUPIED: Outlawing Corporate Cash
Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy.
The Supreme Court, in the 5-4 Citizens United decision of January
2010, declared that corporations have free speech rights like human
beings and invalidated the ban on corporate election spending that
Congress had enacted. Since then, a grassroots movement has emerged to
generate popular support for a constitutional amendment to reverse that
decision, including months of work by Move to Amend, Free Speech For
People, Public Citizen, People For The American Way, Common Cause, and
the Center for Media and Democracy.
Rep. Deutch’s amendment is a blend of the best ideas.
1. The rights protected by the Constitution belong to human beings (natural persons).
2. Constitutional rights do not extend to for-profit corporations or
other business entities, nor do they extend to chambers of commerce that
promote business interests.
3. The constitutional rights of other non-profit corporations, such as
charities, churches, schools, hospitals, clubs, unions, and
environmental groups remain in place.
4. Immediately upon adoption, this amendment would prohibit business
corporations and their associations from using money or other resources
to influence voting on candidates or ballot measures anywhere in
America—at the federal, state, and local levels.
5. Counteracting the 2010 Citizens United case and the 1976 Buckley v.
Valeo case, Congress and the states would once again have the authority
to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and
expenditures, by any group or person.
6. This would empower Congress and the states to control election
spending by CEOs and other wealthy individuals, including those rich
enough to pay for their own campaigns.
Comparing the OCCUPIED amendment to some of the others proposed:
Unlike the amendment offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the Deutch
amendment does more than remove constitutional rights from corporations,
LLCs, and other corporate entities. It reaches all forms of business
enterprise, but without the unintended consequence of stripping
constitutional rights from unions and nonprofit public interest
corporations, such as the Sierra Club, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, and
your local community center. The McGovern amendment would not
automatically prohibit corporate election spending and would not enable
Congress and the states to set limits on election spending by the
wealthy. The Deutch amendment does both.
Unlike the companion amendments introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
in the Senate and Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH) in the House, the Deutch
amendment goes beyond simply authorizing Congress and the states to
regulate campaign financing. It removes the shield of constitutional
rights from business corporations and their associations, and imposes an
immediate, nationwide ban on corporate election spending.
Unlike the ideas floated by TV commentator Dylan Ratigan and
Professor Larry Lessig, the Deutch amendment would not use the
Constitution to prevent citizens from donating to the candidates of
their choice, or to chisel a dollar limit on individual donations into
constitutional stone. Wisely, the Deutch amendment protects and does
not diminish individual rights, and leaves the matter of setting
contribution and expenditure limits to the people through the federal,
state, and local legislative processes.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and a number of co-sponsors in the House
bravely introduced the first attempt at drafting an amendment in
Congress some months back. Hopefully, she and her colleagues will
recognize that the spirit in the streets and around kitchen tables and
the level of legal craftsmanship have progressed to the point where a
stronger amendment like Rep. Deutch’s deserves their support.
Personally, I proposed a simple amendment in January 2011, that would
limit campaign financing to the donations of individual citizens only.
I still think that’s a good idea, but I have to recognize the value of
combining everyone’s best thinking into a comprehensive reform
amendment. Rep. Deutch has done that with OCCUPIED. Let’s join him.