In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld that corporations were “persons” and that their deep-pocket political expenditures were a constitutionally protected expression of their free speech rights, much resistance to the decision has sprung up, from the grassroots to the halls of power in Washington.
Last month, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) and Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Michigan) reintroduced an amendment to the US Constitution, HJ Res. 78, which called for a reversal of the Citizens United case by limiting corporate contributions in elections. The bill is cosponsored by 18 US representatives.
Representative Edwards expressed initial hesitation to amending the Constitution, but said that the Supreme Court left her with no other choice after its ruling in Citizens United.
“Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United threatened 'to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation,' and how right he was,” said Edwards. “Since that flawed ruling was issued, campaign spending by outside groups including corporations surged more than four-fold to reach nearly $300 million in the 2010 election cycle.”
According to a poll conducted last year by Hart Research, an overwhelming majority of American voters agree that corporate spending has more to do with buying influence in Washington than with exercising free speech; 95 percent of those polled agreed that, “Corporations spend money on politics to buy influence/elect people favorable to their financial interests.”
The proposed amendment targets corporations' First Amendment “political speech rights,” but does not include corporations' commercial “free speech rights.” Rep. Edwards said that Congress has other routes of “policing” corporate marketing.
While HJ Res. 78 is praised by some activist groups, such as Free Speech for People, others regard the bill as it is written with skepticism, pointing out that it is not a comprehensive solution for groups actively working against the larger issue of corporate personhood.
According to Move to Amend organizer David Cobb, “It is a mistake to oppose Citizens United only on the basis of campaign finance reform.” Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, also from Move to Amend, told Truthout that, because the bill legitimizes corporations' status as “persons” within the Constitution, it could actually make it harder for groups against corporate personhood to get their agenda through.
Rep. Edwards told YES! Magazine she has faith in passing the amendment: “We've amended the constitution 27 times, and this 28th amendment is no different. Some constitutional amendments have gone rapid-fire through the Congress, and I think that we have the potential for that kind of momentum here.”