Frequently Asked Questions
What are we trying to do?
We have to amend the constitution to get the big money out of politics. We can restore our democracy by ending the doctrines that money is speech and corporations are people. If we want our representatives to represent us, they should get their campaign money from us, their constituents. And not from just a handful of corporate billionaires and mega-millionaires.
What do we have against corporations?
We have nothing against corporations per se. We recognize that corporations play an important role in our economy. But we also believe there must be safeguards against the use of corporate resources to thwart the priorities of the communities in which they operate.
Why are we so concerned about corporation spending on elections?
Corporations’ decisions are made by a very small number of individuals, but they may command resources that vastly exceed those of ordinary citizens. Since the primary purpose of most corporations is to maximize profit, they often have a direct interest in weakening regulations that protect workers, communities, smaller businesses, and the environment,and they can often easily outspend political candidates who wish to preserve such regulations. Currently, corporations need not consult their shareholders about political contributions.
What is corporate personhood, and why are we so focused on it?
Under current law, corporations have human “rights” like free speech and privacy. This has wide-ranging implications – for example, the right to free speech means that corporations may spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. The right to privacy means that regulators are not allowed to make surprise inspections on factories. The people who work for, run, and own corporations are, of course,entitled to the rights of free speech and privacy – but a corporation is not a person, it is a legal invention for making money, and the most egregious abuses of corporate power are made possible by the idea that they have human rights.
If corporate personhood is so bad, how did it end up on the books?
Corporate personhood was originally pushed by lawyers of large corporations. In the 1886 Supreme Court case Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, the court reporter (who had strong ties to railroad corporations) inserted a statement into the headnotes indicating that corporations are persons. This was then used as legal precedent – even though headnotes have no legal standing and the court did not rule on corporate personhood. In the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC case, a 5-4 majority decided that corporations are entitled to human rights. For more on the disturbing history of corporate personhood, see this interview with historian Thom Hartmann.
How would abolishing corporate personhood change things?
Corporations are creations of the state. They couldn’t exist in any form without the legal sanctioning of government. Since citizens are the source of all legitimate power in any representative democracy, We the People have the power to define corporations any way we see fit. We the People have rights and authority. Originally, corporations only possessed privileges bestowed by the state. For a analysis of specific corporate constitutional rights, please see this document by POCLAD.
What about unions?
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission also overturned restrictions on campaign spending by unions. Unions, like corporations are NOT people and should be subject to the same limits on campaign spending. We focus on corporations in our campaign because their spending dwarfs that of the unions. This has been documented here in Wisconsin as well as nationwide.
What about the idea that money is speech?
This is another creation of the Supreme Court – the Constitution says nothing about this. It came from the 1976 Buckley vs. Valeo case, in which the court ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of free speech.
The Supreme Court is made of nine very smart individuals. If the idea of unlimited spending by corporations and unions is so bad, why did the Supreme Court make the decision they did?
In fact, Supreme Court was sharply divided, with four of the nine justices joining a very strongly and eloquently worded dissent written by Justice Stevens. Here is the full text of his dissent.
What has been the effect of the Citizens United ruling?
The amount of political spending has skyrocketed. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has documented this admirably. Here in Wisconsin, just looking at the 2010 governor’s race, spending was up 57 percent from 2002 and more than quadruple the 1998 race (read article here). Legislative fundraising in the first half of 2011 far surpassed the old record (read article here). The effect of special interest money in the 2010 legislative races is documented in another Wisconsin Democracy Campaign article. On a nationwide basis, an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling of January 2010 has profoundly affected the nation’s political landscape.
Why do we need a constitutional amendment?
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution grants legal protections to corporations, including the protections of the Bill of Rights. This could be overturned by the Supreme Court, but this is unlikely to happen for many years – the current justices are young and they are appointed for life. Also, even if one Supreme Court overturns corporate personhood, another could reinstate it in the future. As for writing laws to fix this, any legislation passed by Congress challenging the doctrine of corporate personhood will be found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and ruled invalid. Therefore, an amendment to the US Constitution is needed.
How can we amend the US Constitution?
There are two routes for an amendment to be proposed. One is by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress, and the other is through a constitutional convention (which can be called by two-thirds of state legislatures). Either way, the proposed amendment must be approved by three-fourths of the states.
Won’t it be nearly impossible to amend the Constitution?
Well, it’s been done 27 times before, and we desperately need to fix our broken government. And since the politicians are getting their money from the corporations instead of their constituents, there’s not much chance that Washington will fix itself. So this must be a grass roots movement. Once enough cities, counties and other organizations pass resolutions and ballot initiatives, we can start to persuade state legislators to pass resolutions calling for a constitutional convention. Once a majority of the states call for a constitutional convention, the politicians in Washington will give in to their constituents and pass a constitutional amendment. This process will take years, but the movement is beginning to build, and we need your help to take it to the next level.
Have any resolutions passed in the state of Wisconsin yet?
Yes! A non-partisan association of volunteers formed petition drives for the City of Madison and Dane County. Once the petitions were collected, they asked the Madison City Council to include a resolution on the Spring 2011 ballot. Then, the Dane County Board voted to also include a ballot resolution on the Spring 2011 ballot. The resolutions passed by 84% in Madison and 78% in Dane County! Similar work has begun in the Milwaukee area, Chippewa Valley and other parts of the state. Please contact us to help in your part of the state.
What language do you propose for the amendment?
Section 1 [Corporations are not people and can be regulated]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2 [Money is not speech and can be regulated]
Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.
Where can I get more information?
The Move to Amend site (movetoamend.org) has information about the national movement. South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend (SCWMTA) has an e-mail list for announcements (you can subscribe by sending a blank e-mail to scwmta_announce+subscribe at googlegroups dot com) and also a group on Facebook.com. If you have any additional questions or need more information, contact us.