Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) has introduced a bill that would end corporate personhood with the goal of reversing Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the infamous Supreme Court decision that has unleashed a flood of corporate “dark money” into the U.S. election system, threatening to undermine democracy altogether.
The We the People Amendment, introduced in the House with 26 cosponsors, proposes a Constitutional Amendment that would establish that only people — not “artificial entities” like lobbying groups and corporations — have rights given by the Constitution. This would undercut the root of the Citizens United decision, in which Supreme Court justices ruled that limiting political spending from corporations constitutes a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
“Corporations are not people and money is not speech,” Jayapal said in a statement. “In every election cycle since the disastrous Citizens United decision, we have seen more and more special interest dark money poured into campaigns across the country. My We the People Amendment returns the power to the people by finally ending corporate constitutional rights, reversing Citizens United, and ensuring that our democracy is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people — not corporations.”
Overturning Citizens United has been a longtime goal of progressive lawmakers and advocates, who have warned that the vast and growing influence of corporations and billionaires on elections is destroying what semblance of democracy the U.S. has.
Ever since the 2010 decision, the amount of outside spending on elections has increased precipitously in every election cycle, with a direct effect on election results; last year’s midterm elections were the most expensive in history, while the vast majority of House races were won by the biggest spender. At the state level, this is causing an extreme lurch to the right within state legislatures, fueling the GOP’s unprecedented fights against abortion access, public education and LGBTQ rights.
Jayapal’s bill is similar in aim to the Democracy for All Act, a bill introduced in January, also sponsored by Jayapal, with the same goal of ending Citizens United. However, the bills vary in their mechanisms.
As Move to Amend, a sponsor of the bill, explains in a fact sheet, the We the People Amendment goes slightly further than the Democracy For All Act.
The We the People Amendment would seek to end corporate personhood at the federal level, which the Democracy For All Act doesn’t address, according to the fact sheet. And We the People would create a mandate to limit contributions and expenditures, including for self-funding candidates, while Democracy for All only specifies that Congress and state legislators “may” create such limits.
“Rep. Jayapal clearly understands that the changes she and many of her colleagues support to advance health care, expand economic justice, ensure a livable world, and promote real democracy are incredibly difficult but necessary. This is especially true given the unjustifiable Supreme Court decisions declaring corporations as entities with many of the same constitutional rights as human persons and that money spent in elections is equivalent to First Amendment-protected free speech,” Dolores Guernica, Move to Amend legislative co-director, said in a statement.
“The exponential growth of corporate power and corrupting political influence from huge sums of money flooding elections can only be solved with a systemic solution that is equivalent in scale to these systemic problems — the We the People Amendment, which will end all corporate constitutional rights and money as free speech,” Guernica continued.
Jayapal has introduced the We the People Amendment before, in 2021, and Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (California) has been reintroducing Democracy for All since 2013. However, there is little motivation for mainstream politicians on either side of the aisle to push back on Citizens United, likely in part because both major parties leverage dark money to defeat progressive and left-leaning candidates.
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