Vermont Legislature Votes to Overturn Citizens United

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Progressive activists are celebrating another victory today after the Vermont Legislature became the third in the nation late Thursday to pass resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections and gave rise to the now-infamous Super PACs.

The resolution passed the Vermont House by a vote of 92-40 with support from five Republicans and despite a filibuster attempt by a Republican state representative. A similar resolution passed the state Senate last week by a wide margin of 26-3.

The Hawaii and New Mexico Legislatures have also passed similar resolutions.

“The Vermont legislature is the third state legislature to formally call for an amendment,” said Aquene Freechild, an organizer for reform group Public Citizen’s grassroots campaign to overturn Citizens United v. FEC. “I have no doubt it will be among the first to ratify.”

The resolution, penned by State Sen. Ginny Lyons, states that the government should have the right to regulate corporate spending on elections, and the Supreme Court used a faulty legal precedent when it equated campaign spending to free speech.

In a nod to the democratic nature of the movement against unlimited corporate spending on influencing elections, the resolutions recognizes that Vermonters gathered at 65 town meetings on March 6 to simultaneously pass measures demanding a constitutional amendment.

“This resolution is a reaffirmation of the belief, shared by many Vermont communities, that corporations should not be allowed to engage in unlimited spending to unduly influence elections,” said Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith. “With our longstanding tradition of town meetings and our citizen legislature, any Vermonter can have an impact.”

The resolution also recognizes that “corporations are not persons.” Critics of Citizens United v. FEC often claim that the ruling essentially created “corporate personhood” by recognizing that corporations have the same right as individuals to unlimited free speech in the form of unlimited independent campaign spending.

The resolutions passed in Vermont and beyond come as coalitions of progressive groups are organizing a national grassroots movement to overturn the controversial ruling. Resolutions calling for an amendment and opposing corporate personhood have passed in more than 100 cities across the country, and resolutions have been introduced in 20 other state legislatures calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling, according to Public Citizen.

The vote came one day after progressives in Congress, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, held a summit in Washington to support the grassroots effort. Sanders and his allies have introduced similar resolutions in Congress.

Since the 2010 ruling, more money has been spent influencing elections than ever before, with 2012 expected to be the most expensive election season yet. During the current election cycle, Super PACs have spent more than $81 million supporting specific presidential candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.