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January 21, 2011

We the Corporations?

Constitution Vermont could become the first-in-the-nation legislative body to urge Congress to amend the constitution and ban the court-created notion of "corporate personhood."

On the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that many believe granted corporations increased constitutional protections to free speech similar to those of individuals, a Vermont Senate is introducing a resolution to recommend Congress amend the Constitution and make it clear that corporations are not, in fact, people, under federal law.

In its Citizens United ruling last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said corporations, like private citizens, could spend freely on elections. The court ruled that labor unions, too, could spend unlimited amounts.

The Vermont resolution, sponsored by Sen. Virginia "Ginny" Lyons (D-Chittenden) and 11 other Democratic senators, comes on the heels of a Vermont visit by David Cobb, of the group "Move to Amend," who is trying to build a grassroots movement to amend the Constitution in order to roll back court rulings he believes grants too much authority and protection to corporations.

"We could urge Congress to pass a law at the federal level, but we think amending the constitution so that the language is clear that individual rights are only reserved for people is probably the best way to go," said Lyons. The measure, if approved by the Senate, will go to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review. The chairman, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), is also a cosponsor of the legislation.

Vermont law does allow for corporations to be treated as persons as it pertains to contracts. As well, Vermont's campaign finance law does recognize corporations as people.

A series of protests and press events are being held in Washington, D.C., today on the one-year anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, which granted corporations, and labor unions, the right to unlimited campaign spending in an election cycle. Another case is winding its way through the federal court system that could grant corporations more protection from the release of government investigative records under the guise of "personal privacy" protections granted in the constitution.

One of those groups is Business for Democracy, which has some financial support from Ben & Jerry's. The group launched a national campaign urging business leaders to pledge to keep corporate money out of elections and work to overturn the Citizens United ruling.

"We want to use the first anniversary of this ruling to mobilize the business voice," said Rob Michalak, the director of social mission and PR at Ben & Jerry's. "This is all about the corporate role in our democracy and we're standing next to citizens groups in an effort to overturn Citizens United. Different groups will have different approaches, but for us we believe the ruling goes against some of the basic principles of our democracy. Democracy should be by the people and not by the corporations."

In the past two decades, Cobb notes, federal courts have increasingly granted constitutional protections to corporations that had previously only been granted to individuals, among them the right to unlawful search and seizure, due process and free speech. In several instances, these rulings have shielded corporations from government regulations or public oversight.

Cobb said it's time to push back on those constitutional expansions of protection for corporations and restore the founding document to be one that is focused on people, and not corporations.

"All we're saying is that the U.S. Constitution should protect our individual liberties," said Cobb. "We've been taught that we are a democratic republic and that we the people are sovereign and that we the people rule — not corporations."

There are two ways to amend the U.S. Constitution: an act of Congress, which is then ratified by the states, or two-thirds of the states calling for a Constitutional Convention.

* This post has been updated to include the language of the resolution (below). Also, the resolution was referred to the Senate Government Operations Committee on Friday, not the Judiciary Committee.

The resolution:

J.R.S. 11. Joint resolution urging the United States Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution for the states’ consideration which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States or any of its jurisdictional subdivisions.

Whereas, free and fair elections are essential to American democracy and effective self-governance, and

Whereas, individual persons are rightfully recognized as the human beings who actually vote in elections, and

Whereas, corporations are legal entities that governments create and can exist in perpetuity and simultaneously in many nations, and

Whereas, they do not vote in elections and should not be categorized as persons for purposes related to elections for public office, and

Whereas, corporations are not mentioned in the United States Constitution as adopted, nor have Congress and the states recognized corporations as legal persons in any subsequent federal constitutional amendment, and

Whereas, during the 1885–1886 United States Supreme Court term, in the midst of oral arguments leading to the decision Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394, Chief Justice Waite stated that all the justices agreed that the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on a state denying equal protection to a person applies to a state’s treatment of private corporations, and

Whereas, this brief but extraordinarily significant comment of Chief Justice Waite sanctioned private corporations to sue municipal and state governments for adopting laws that violate a corporation’s rights even when those laws serve to protect and defend the rights of human persons, and

Whereas, the United States Supreme Court has continued to adhere to this legal position in its jurisprudence for over a century, and most recently applied it in its decision Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, 130 S.Ct. 876, that eliminated many restrictions, including any total prohibition, on corporate spending in the electoral process, and

Whereas, the Court in Citizens has created a new and unequal playing field between human beings and corporations with respect to campaign financing, negating over a century of precedent prohibiting corporate contributions to federal election campaigns dating to the Tillman Act of 1907, and

Whereas, the Citizens decision has forced candidates for political office to divert attention from the interests and needs of their human constituents in order to raise sufficient campaign funds for election, and Whereas, corporations are not and have never been human beings and therefore are rightfully subservient to human beings and the governments that are their creators, and

Whereas, the profits and institutional survival of large corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings, and

Whereas, large corporations have used their so-called rights to successfully seek the judicial reversal of democratically enacted laws passed at the municipal, state, and federal levels aimed at curbing corporate abuse, and

Whereas, these judicial decisions have rendered democratically elected governments ineffective in protecting their citizens against corporate harm to the environment, health, workers, independent business, and local and regional economies, and

Whereas, large corporations own most of America’s mass media and employ those media to loudly express the corporate political agenda and to convince Americans that the primary role of human beings is that of consumers rather than sovereign citizens with democratic rights and responsibilities, and the United States Constitution to define persons as human beings and not corporations, now therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives: That the General Assembly urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution for the states’ consideration which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States or any of its jurisdictional subdivisions, and be it further

Resolved: That the Secretary of State be directed to send a copy of this resolution to the Vermont Congressional Delegation.

Is Seven Days a corporation?

Oh Yay !!! The legislature has found another useless non-binding meaningless resolution to occupy their time. Not like there are actual pressing matters at hand.


I mean heck if the cops can't come and raid your house for no reason they may as well be able to go raid the business you worked to build for no good reason.... makes sense to errrrr Lyons I guess.

I agree with Ginny Lyons on almost nothing. But I'll agree with her on this one. Money should not equal "speech." But the Supreme Court refuses to agree with that simple notion. So the next best thing is to agree that corporations aren't "persons" for purposes of politics. In other words, corporations (non-persons) shouldn't have the right to spend money on politics. That's for people.

Webber,

You can agree with Ginny Lyons, but there is absolutely NOTHING the state Legislature in Vermont can do about it. Bernie, Pat, Peter........ they are the ones that need to deal with it. NOT the VT state legislature that have other matters to attend to.

Actually, state legislatures play an essential role in amending the US Constitution.

Article V describes the specific ways.

It says that 2/3 of states can call for a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution.

Also, to ratify an amendment 3/4 of state legislatures must approve the amendment once it passes through Congress.

So if Ginny wants to amend the constitution, she took the proper steps, procedurally.

Yeah, all she has to do now is call up her buddies in 36 other states now and get them to follow suit. And actually the resolution does not call for a constitutional convention, rather it says we recommend you make a change. Something that could have been done over the phone to Peter, Pat, Bernie.

The Legislature every year finds some non-binding recomendation to take up and then finds themselves with little time to tackle the budget, jobs, no time for education reform, or permitting reform. But hey, at least they are on record as demanding VT troops be brought home from Iraq, wanting an impeachment of Dubya, and they as evidenced by the record lows on tap obviously solved Global Warming. Maybe in a few years they can take credit for restricting the 1st amendment.

"The Legislature every year finds some non-binding recomendation to take up and then finds themselves with little time to tackle the budget, jobs, no time for education reform, or permitting reform. But hey, at least they are on record as demanding VT troops be brought home from Iraq, wanting an impeachment of Dubya, and they as evidenced by the record lows on tap obviously solved Global Warming."

True that. I wish that for one session -- just one -- the Legislative leadership would declare that for this session we're only going to focus on one thing and one thing only: the budget, regulatory reform, and attracting businesses to Vermont. That is MORE than enough work for one session of the Legislature (Jan. - May). Then, if they've spent one session successfully tackling the above, in the next session they could move on to all the other things that they consider so important, like banning the clipping of dogs' ears and curing global climate change.

I am very grateful to Ginnie and the VT Legislators for taking this on. This MUST be addressed NOW! I believe they know what they are doing and will accomplish a lot with Shumlin as Gov.

Many in the US Congress are no different than hookers, they sell political favors (their votes) for financial gain, sounds like prostitution to me. The Citizens United decision makes vote buying easier, with obscene amounts of cash donations from their corporate clients, and makes it more difficult for the common person to be heard.

If prostitution is illegal, why is it rampant in OUR halls of Congress? This issue MUST be addressed before the 2012 elections.

Sadly, the biggest hookers in Congress will fight this, too much money to lose. That is where the time waste will come from. Call your members of Congress and encourage them make it happen in DC.
"of the people, by the people and for the people"! NOT THE CORPORATIONS!

ALL elections should be paid for through publicly financed elections, thereby keeping the members of Congress out of the pockets of the corporations and accountable to the people of this nation.


@Bert

Aren't corporations made up of "people"?

While I don't disagree with the issue of letting companies spend unlimited money on campaigns, I don't think it's up to the VT legislature. Its a federal gov't issue, and well... we pay 3 guys to be our FEDERAL representitives. We pay the VT Legislature to address issues concerning the state.

As for publically financed elections, I would agree to that. Give each candidate a set amount and disallow carry over. That would eliminate issues such as incumbents with large warchests making it impossible for new blood to mount a real challenge. Last election Leahy didn't even have to raise a dime to outspend Britton. But thereinlies the reason that publicly financed campaigns would never be enacted.

Until then maybe Lyons should have simply phoned Bernie. It's been a week or so since his last rant.

"I wish that for one session -- just one -- the Legislative leadership would declare that for this session we're only going to focus on one thing and one thing only: the budget, regulatory reform, and attracting businesses to Vermont."


Heh. That's the new math.

I vote we add education as a fourth "one thing," considering.

Considering what, that you're a DB? The budget, regulatory reform, and the state's (anti)business climate are all one subject, in my mind at least. They all relate to the state's perilous financial situation because it absolutely hates business, loves to spend money, and refuses to recognize it's limitations. It should devote one or two full legislative sessions to fixing that problem and leave everything else alone. And I'll stack my educational credentials against yours any day, unemployed bureaucrat. If you could do math, you wouldn't be begging for money on your inconsequential website.

"unemployed bureaucrat?"

Hm. Who do you think I am, exactly?

Odum,

Are you aware it is impossible to register on GMD? Every single user name is taken, or so it says but I can't really imagine that anyone else would try to use LooneyLeftEducator

I think something is fishy

@JCarter: I do love the idea that "LooneyLeftEducator" is in high demand as an ID, but I checked and no one has taken it, so it could be a problem with your browser accepting cookies to complete the registration.

I just manually added the userID for you. if you wanna email me, I can send you the password. Best email for me is jodum -at- poetworld.net. If it is a cookie issue, you may have a problem then logging in, but we can cross that bridge if/when we get to it.

1789 The Constitution and Bill of Rights are established as the law of the land.

THE 1ST AMENDMENT:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

For 97 years it was understood that 1st Amendment freedoms of speech, press and assembly were the sole rights of flesh and blood citizens. Corporations had no rights. Newspapers had the right to print because they employed people and not the other way around.

1886 A footnote to the Santa Clara Railroad case by a Supreme Court Clerk who was previously a railroad executive becomes the basis for corporations claiming the same rights as flesh and blood people.

As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear, or is trampled beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters - President Grover Cleveland, 1888

CONSPIRACY THEORY
"The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy." -Alex Carey, Australian social scientist who pioneered the investigation of corporate propaganda (see Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy, Univ of New South Wales, 1995)

A newspaper must at all times antagonize the selfish interests of that very class which furnishes the larger part of a newspaper's income... The press in this country is dominated by the wealthy few...that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people that correct information concerning political, economical and social subjects which it is necessary that the mass of people Shall have in order that they vote...in the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and chicanery of the ruling and employing classes. (E.W. Scripps).

EDITORIALS: A MARKETING SCHEME
"It was not until the 1920s that you really get the notion of professional journalists, the way we think about them today," says Michael Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "A lot of different schools of journalism started, codes of ethics were developed, the whole notion of the journalist as objective came into play .... of standing outside the story, telling both sides, of being factual rather than opinionated."

Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs.


THE CONSPIRACY
But the commercial press is exempted: 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term "expenditure" does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

If the purpose of campaign laws is to level the playing field and prevent the voice of corporate special interests from overpowering the voice of the people why do FECA and BCRA exempt commercial media and regulate communications by grass roots organizations?

This law divides participation in America’s political process into two categories: The regulated majority, every living U.S. Citizen, candidate for office, political party and political organization and the unregulated commercial media.

This leaves the unrestricted institutional press in a unique position to decide what issues and candidates are important enough to discuss.

Newspapers and broadcasters are special interests who depend on the advertising dollars of other special interests. Both Democrats and Republicans agree news is biased and only differ on which networks and newspapers are guilty. And does anyone doubt advertising dollars result in spiked and under reported stories?

Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State have written resolutions in support of Amending the Constitution to eliminate corporate influence in elections and restore flesh and blood citizens 1st Amendment rights.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But these resolutions fail to understand the purpose of the 1st Amendment. The 1st Amendment does not establish our freedoms; it only denies Congress authority to write laws that abridge those freedoms. The State Constitutions establish freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly.. State representatives to the Constitutional Convention, fearing possible overreach by a Federal Government, demanded the inclusion of the 1st Amendment.

Rather than attempt a Constitutional Amendment to restore their citizen's 1st Amendment rights, The States should reassert the 10th Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Consider there are no federal elections only elections for federal office held in the States. The Founding Fathers left regulation of political campaigns to the States. The Supreme Court consistently re-interprets the Constitution to extend the authority of the central government in contradiction to the clear wording and intent of the 1st Amendment.

The Federal Government wrote no campaign regulations until 1907 and did not establish an enforcement mechanism or try cases until after the Federal Campaign Act was passed in 1971.

But State legislatures (with the exception of Kentucky) have mirrored Federal Campaign law that exempts commercial media (newspapers and broadcasters) from reporting requirements and monetary limits that apply to communications by candidates, political parties, individuals and citizens groups. How do State Legislatures propose to justify News Corporation’s exemption with their resolutions to prevent corporate influence in elections and restore flesh and blood citizen’s rights?

I assure you newspapers and broadcasters are special interests who depend on the advertising dollars of other special interests. Both Democrats and Republicans agree news is biased and only differ on which networks and newspapers are guilty. And does anyone doubt advertising dollars result in spiked is underreported stories?

Prior to Watergate, some of our nation’s largest newspapers found themselves in federal court loosing antitrust suits which accused them of purchasing financially troubled newspapers and then pretending to compete with them while rigging prices.

The Newspaper Preservation Act was working its way through congress and was designed to grant antitrust relief to the affected newspapers. Richard Nixon and his, Attorney General, were on record as strongly opposed to the passage of the Newspaper Preservation Act.

A newspaper executive wrote President Nixon as his re-election approached and reminded the President the nation’s largest Newspaper chains published in states that had the largest number of electoral votes. The letter reminded President Nixon that it could be difficult to be re-elected without editorial support.

President Nixon reversed his position and convinced congress to pass the Newspaper Preservation Act.

After serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs.

But instead of chastising the 4th estate the Federal Election Campaign Reform Act exempted them and created the ‘State Approved’ Press:

Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a "special interest" by any definition, and heavily engaged in the "issue advocacy" and "independent expenditure" realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold "reform" bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd. - From a letter by Senator Mitch McConnell

MEDIA TALKS THE TALK – BUT WILL THEY WALK THE WALK?

The commercial press is the most well-known promoter of campaign reforms to get money out of politics. Among reasons given is the need to level the playing field for challengers.

Since the only thing campaigns produce is information for public distribution and the cost of distribution is the origin of the need for money in politics, why don't the commercial media offer to publish and broadcast candidate and issue ads for free?

There is speculation Obama may raise a billion dollars for his re-election and Republicans may raise 750 million. Will the commercial media charging for political ads?

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