A national initiative to reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision — which some say gave corporations a blank check to buy elections — is coming to Boulder.
A City Council member wants to place a referendum for the effort on the local ballot, and a former Green Party presidential candidate will be in Boulder and other Colorado cities this week to stump for the initiative.
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 21, 2010, that the First Amendment prohibits limits on corporate funding of political broadcasts in candidate elections. The decision struck down a provision of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act that kept corporations from airing campaign broadcasts about a candidate within a certain number of days before an election. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said that prohibiting the group Citizens United from broadcasting an anti-Hillary Clinton TV ad just before the 2008 primary was contrary to the First Amendment. The justification was, in part, that the First Amendment not only prohibits punishing citizens for political speech, but “associations of citizens,” like corporations.
The decision prompted an outcry from some who said it equated money with free speech and gave companies carte blanche to outspend the competition on ads for their favored candidates, skewing the democratic process even more toward the corporate elite.
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A national group called Move to Amend is mobilizing to reverse the decision, even if it requires amending the U.S. Constitution. And this week, City Council member Macon Cowles called on the city’s leaders to place a referendum supporting that initiative on the ballot.
“Many people in our town support the Move to Amend the U.S. Constitution as the most promising way to reign in corporate power and the effect of billions of dollars of corporate money every election cycle that is put into moving a corporate agenda in the Congress and the states,” Cowles wrote in an email to council.
He told Boulder Weekly that the referendum will be scheduled for council discussion within the next couple of months.
His proposed resolution reads, “Resolved, the People of the City of Boulder, Colorado, call for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate and monetary influence by amending the United States Constitution to:
1. abolish corporate personhood and prohibit the granting of Constitutional rights to any entity other than a human being; and to 2. clarify that the expenditure of money is not Constitutionally protected free speech so that money spent to influence elections can be subject to reasonable regulation to promote equal protection under the law for all human citizens.”
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David Cobb, the Green Party’s 2004 candidate for president, is a primary spokesperson for Move to Amend and sits on the initiative’s seven-member executive committee. He will be speaking on “Creating Democracy and Challenging Corporate Rule” in several Colorado cities this week, including a Boulder appearance on Saturday, May 21, at 2 p.m. at the Boulder Unity Church, 2855 Folsom St. His visit is being co-sponsored by the Greater Boulder Green Party and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.
Cobb told Boulder Weekly that the Citizens United decision is “just the latest, most egregious example of a legal system that is not actually promoting justice, not actually promoting the ability of ‘we the people’ to govern ourselves.”
Cobb notes that the Declaration of Independence refers to “unalienable rights” afforded to individuals, and says rights such as freedom of speech cannot be transferred to corporations. A corporation is a creation of government, like the state that issues its charter, Cobb says, and the idea that it should be treated the same way as those who created it is wrong.
Cobb advocates going beyond the court system and effecting change on cultural, political and economic fronts. Besides, he says, the courts have been wrong before.
“This is the same court that once said laws preventing women from voting are OK,” he points out. “This is the same court that said Jim Crow segregation laws are OK. This is the same court that said laws saying Native American Indians were not human beings were OK. There any number of ways we can show that the courts have been profoundly wrong, and they are wrong again.
“We can’t let them, in this slavish devotion to corporate ideology, tell us we don’t have the right to protect the environment or the integrity of our elections,” he says. “If we frame it that way, we can capture the spirit and joyful resistance that prior movements have done. They can either get on the right side of history or be replaced.”
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Cobb applies a similar analogy to the increasingly centralized and corporate media. He refers to Boulder Weekly and other independent news sources as “the people’s media,” adding that it’s a shame the term “alternative” is applied to such outlets, because it means they are increasingly in the minority.
“You know how low we are sinking when you allow ever fewer wealthy people to control ever more of the media institutions — they get the power to shape culture,” Cobb says, adding that his movement relies on independent media. “We know that Fox News and big corporate dailies are, in fact, ever more propaganda arms for Wall Street. So we need relations with genuine, independent media.”
He says a tangible example of the effect the Citizens United decision has already had on our elections is that the Chamber of Commerce spent a record amount on the last election and wasn’t required to disclose where that money came from, even though contributors could well have included foreign corporations.
Cobb recommends OpenSecrets.org as a valuable resource for determining which industries are contributing money to candidates.
He even identifies an unlikely ally in the Move to Amend initiative: the Tea Party. Both groups are mad, for example, that the major banks nearly destroyed the country’s economy and have since been rewarded, Cobb says.
“We’re hopeful to reach across ideologies,” he explains, “and find common ground.”
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Cobb discusses the three possible ways Move to Amend can reverse the Citizens United decision, from convincing two-thirds of our congressional representatives to approve an amendment to the Constitution (it would then go to the states for ratification) to triggering a Constitutional Convention with support from two-thirds of the states.
Finally, he says, if subjected to enough cultural pressure, the Supreme Court could reverse itself, as it did in Brown v. Board of Education to outlaw Jim Crow laws.
Move to Amend has collected more than 111,700 signatures online for a constitutional amendment that would:
• Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
• Guarantee the right to vote and to participate — and to have our vote and participation count.
• Protect local communities, their economies and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national and state governments.
Cobb describes this as a watershed moment in the country’s history.
“This moment in time is a democracy crisis, so what we need is a democratic movement, much like what is happening across the Middle East, Latin America and Central America,” he says. “We need to start taking ourselves seriously as ‘we the people,’ actually having the sovereign right, and dare I say sacred responsibility, for creating a just, compassionate society. If we start to think that way, we can change reality.”
More information is available at movetoamend.org.