Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Reversing Citizens United isn't Enough

Testimony to Cleveland Heights City Council 
June 4, 2012

The Citizens United Supreme Court decision has resulted in many responses by individuals, organizations and governmental entities across the country. I’d like to thank this council for both having the interest and taking the time to take a position. Citizens United has spawned a grassroots national movement, Move to Amend,  that seeks to not simply reverse the decision via a constitutional amendment. Nearly 150 communities have passed resolutions or citizen initiatives calling for reserving Citizens United AND ending all never-intended constitutional rights AND ending the constitutional doctrine that money is akin to free speech.

Why have communities from coast to coast taken such a more comprehensive position than simply calling for reversing Citizens United?  Three reasons.

1.    Reversing Citizens United alone would return us to the time before January 21, 2010. Remember those days? When banking corporations used their political influence to reduce financial regulations that led to massive home foreclosures and the national economic implosion. When BP corporation and others used their political influence to reduce environmental regulations that led to the Gulf Coast disaster. When heath care corporations used their political influence to prevent real health care reform. When wealthy individuals donated or invested huge sums to produce massive tax breaks for themselves – a major cause for the spike of our national debt. When … well you get the idea. We had no democratic nirvana prior to Citizens United. If we’re going to work on a constitutional amendment, shouldn’t it call for something profound? For something that will dramatically expand self-governance?

2.    Simply reversing Citizens United doesn’t address the many other forms of never-intended constitutional rights of corporations. Corporations have turned on its head many constitutional rights, not simply first amendment free speech. 14th amendment due process and equal protection rights for example …and others. Constitutional rights are meant exclusively for human beings. Corporations are creations of the state and thus, the state, has the authority to regulate or define them. That’s how it once was in our nation. That’s how it was meant to be. Charles Peterson, Oberlin City Councilperson and Associate Professor of Black Studies at the College of Wooster, when voting for a resolution abolishing all never intended corporate constitutional rights, earlier this year said, "The movement to abolish the 'citizenship' status held by corporations is one of the unheralded battles of our historical moment. Under the guise of freedom of speech and the protections of the 14th Amendment, corporations have slowly expanded their control over not just the economic life of the nation but its political life as well. It is a cruel irony of history that the amendment to the constitution which guaranteed freedom, justice and democratic participation to 4 million former slaves turned citizens, would become the foundation for the degradation of freedom, justice and democratic participation for every US citizen. As both a private citizen and public official, I support a constitutional amendment that abolishes citizenship rights for corporations.”

3.    Finally, only reversing Citizens United won’t do much, if anything, for controlling what has become the ugly face of politics over the last 18 months – SuperPACs. Technically, SuperPACs came into being by another Supreme Court decision – SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission – in July 2010. As far as the millions spent to date on what largely have been political attack ads, the majority of those ads have been funded by private wealthy individuals, not corporations, unions or any other type of organization. According to analysis of presidential SuperPACS by the Sunlight Foundation, 70.3% of SuperPAC contributions have come from wealthy individuals. This is why any constitutional  amendment must also include ending the constitutional doctrine that money is akin to free speech. If money is speech, then those who have the most money have the most speech. This pretty accurately describes our current political system – and why Move to Amend has included this provision along with ending all never intended corporate constitutional rights in its call.

Thank you once again for taking up this issue. We respectfully request, however, that any resolution addressing this issue do so with the urgency, clarity and unison of the 149 other communities across the nation that have called for an end to BOTH the constitutional doctrines that corporations are equal to people and money is equal to speech. We ask that you amend this resolution this evening or take the time to come back with a more complete resolution at your next meeting. Thank you.

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