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The Progressive

Overturn Citizens United: Amend the Constitution

I was asked to speak at an “Occupy the Courts” rally outside the federal courthouse in Madison, Wisconsin, yesterday. It was nine degrees out, and it was snowing, but about 85 people showed up to denounce the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

People held signs that said, “Supreme Court plus Supreme Corruption Equals Supreme Calamity” and “End Corporate Personhood.”

The Raging Grannies made fun of the decision in song after song.

Mike McCabe, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, rightly said that it “effectively legalized bribery again” in our political system and that we need to “fight to recriminalize bribery.”

Wisconsin State Assemblywoman Chris Taylor said we need to amend not only the federal Constitution but our state constitution as well if we are to eliminate corporate control of our government.

Here is, by and large, what I said, as my teeth were chattering and my ears were freezing:

“Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court put a stake through the heart of democracy in America.

It ruled, amazingly, that we can’t regulate corporate expenditures in elections so long as they are “independent” of the candidates.

In doing so, it relied on two encrusted legal falsehoods:

First, that corporations = persons.

And second, that money = speech.

And it betrayed an appalling naivete about how our system works:

The 5-4 majority said—check this out—that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

And even if they did give rise to the appearance of corruption, the court asserted, without foundation, that “the appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”

What planet were those justices on?

The American people are already losing faith in our democracy because of the influence of money in politics.

That’s why 80 percent opposed this ruling, including 76 percent of Republicans!

Since this ruling, we’re already seeing the enormous increase of money in politics with the so-called Super PACS.

The only way we have a prayer of democracy is if we overturn Citizens United. And there are just two ways to do that.

You can hope and pray for a different composition on the Court, a more liberal court, to do the job, but that’s no guarantee and it’s an impermanent fix.

Or we can fix it once and for all and pass a Constitutional Amendment that says, unequivocally,

that money is not speech,

that corporations are not persons, and

that corporations can’t spend money to elect this candidate or to trash that candidate.

Fortunately, the people are increasingly in favor of such an approach. Already, the two biggest cities in the United States, New York and LA, have gone on record in favor of such an amendment. Other cities, like our own Madison, Wisconsin, have also passed resolutions advocating this. As have Boulder, Colorado and Missoula, Montana.

And at the national level, Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill to amend the Constitution, as has Sen. Tom Udall, as well as Representative Donna Edwards and John Yarmuth in the House.

So today we occupy the courts.

Tomorrow we must occupy the Constitution.

And some day soon we slay the dragon of corporate personhood and establish, for ourselves and our posterity, a real democracy right here in America.”

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Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild

Matthew Rothschild is senior editor of The Progressive magazine.

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