Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
It’s been a good week in the crucial campaign to amend our Constitution and finally put corporations in their place.
Many in the Occupy movement are taking up the cause.
For instance, in Los Angeles on December 3, the general assembly of Occupy L.A. “passed a unanimous resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood,” as Brooke Jarvis reported for Yes! Magazine and Michael Evans reported for LA Progressive.
Members of Occupy L.A. then attended the meeting of the city council of Los Angeles on December 6, where a resolution was being discussed to amend the Constitution. That resolution said corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not speech. It, too, passed unanimously.
“The vote makes Los Angeles the first major city in the U.S. to call for an end to all corporate constitutional rights,” says movetoamend.org, the grassroots group that pushed the resolution. “Earlier this year, voters in Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin, overwhelmingly approved ballot measures calling for an end to corporate personhood and the legal status of money as speech by 84% and 78% respectively. In November voters in Boulder, Colorado, and Missoula, Montana, both passed similar initiatives with 75% support.”
On the national level, even Barack Obama, no enemy of corporate power by any stretch, provided ideological backing when he said in Kansas on Tuesday that inequality in this country “runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder” and that people are “rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged.”
Two days after his speech, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposed a Constitutional amendment entitled the “Saving American Democracy Amendment.”
It states, in part, that “the rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, or other private entities established for business purposes.”
It adds: “Such corporate and other private entities shall be prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in any election of any candidate for public office or the vote upon any ballot measure submitted to the people.”
And it establishes the right of the government “to regulate and set limits on all contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own spending.”
This is the first time that Sanders has introduced an amendment to the Constitution in his two decades in Congress. But the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. the FEC forced his hand. That decision, which granted corporations the right to spend as much money as they wanted on political campaigns, was “a complete undermining of democracy,” Sanders said.
“There comes a time,” he said, “when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by a constitutional amendment.”
Letter to the editor, December 10, 2011
Subject: Bernie Sanders's Amendment is FATALLY FLAWED
I am Steve Justino, Move to Amend, National Action Coordinator, OCCUPY THE COURTS – 1.20.2012! You probably don’t remember, but you and I met this past August at the Democracy Convention. I am not speaking for Move to Amend in this e-mail (which actually a blog that I posted elsewhere), but I did speak to David Cobb, and he is in complete agreement with me.
With all due respect to Senator Sanders, the Saving American Democracy Amendment (SAD) is, well, sad. Just introduced, the Senate Joint Resolution is FATALLY FLAWED.
By making his amendment applicable to "FOR PROFIT" corporations only, Sen. Sanders has left a GAPING LOOPHOLE that Corporations will drive right through. There is nothing in the law, or in this amendment, that would stop FOR PROFIT corporations from setting up NON-PROFIT subsidiaries, which they could then use to keep the corporate donations flowing. Remember "Citizens United, Inc." the phony, corporate-funded, "grass roots" organization that was the Plaintiff in the Citizens United v. FEC case was a NON-PROFIT corporation.
Move to Amend takes the principled position that rights recognized under the constitution belong to HUMAN BEINGS only! No loopholes. No exceptions.
More practically, with its GAPING LOOPHOLE exempting non-profit corporations, Senator Sanders' amendment is IMPOSSIBLE to pass. Why would any conservative, who might otherwise support a good, strong, amendment ending "corporate personhood," agree to an amendment which would prevent Conservative/Republican big money donors (corporations) from making political donations, but would NOT prevent Liberal big money donors (non-profit Unions and issue advocacy groups like the Sierra Fund) from donating?
People across the country are carrying signs saying "Corporations are NOT People." Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Ellison and Congressman Deutch, who all have similar loopholes in their recently introduced amendments, are recommending we now carry signs saying " SOME Corporations are NOT People."
That’s not good enough!
If you want to see an amendment that is serious about ending corporate personhood--and getting money out of politics—read Move to Amend's amendment language at www.movetoamend.org/amendment. MTA's language is the language that was approved, unanimously, by the City Council of Los Angeles on Tuesday. Check it out!
Move to Amend, National Action Coordinator, OCCUPY THE COURTS - 1.20.2012!
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Occupy Activists Push Ahead."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter