We need the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that:
- Money is not speech;
- Corporations are not people.
The 2010 Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United, has gotten a lot of attention lately and for good reason. Unlimited donations by billionaires and corporations to super PACs have drowned out the voices of ordinary Americans.
But overturning Citizens United by itself isn’t enough. That case builds on two other cases that can all be addressed in an amendment to prevent big money from corrupting our democracy.
How Money Became Free Speech
The ruling that money is free speech comes from Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 Supreme Court decision. Although the court upheld limits on direct contributions to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption, they ruled that spending money to influence elections is protected speech under the First Amendment. Over the next four decades, several other decisions gave groups like corporations more and more “rights” to political spending in elections, culminating in 2010’s Citizens United decision. Citizens United overturned court precedent by ruling that corporations, specifically, also have a First Amendment right to free speech, eliminating many remaining barriers to political spending. More recently, McCutcheon v. F.E.C, in 2014, overturned aggregate contribution limits, opening the floodgates for corporations and wealthy individuals to infect elections with even more money.
Are Corporations People?
No. Corporations are not people. “A corporation is a government-defined legal structure for doing business. A corporation is created and defined by state legislatures to advance what the state deems to be in the public interest.” For more information, see Jeff Clements’s book, “Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations.”
The Problem with Congress
Money has always been a part of elections, but in recent years – and especially since the Citizens United decision in 2010 – campaign spending has exploded. The big problem, though, is that elections are now paid for by corporations and the super-rich, and politicians do what the people who pay them want. (Sorry, taxpayers.)
Watch Ben’ famous bb presentation to see just how much money corporations spend to influence U.S. elections compared to the average citizen.
The candidate with the most money wins 94% of the time so politicians care a lot about getting their hands on the moolah. In 2012, over $7 billion dollars was spent in federal elections alone, and behind that spending was an army of 13,000 lobbyists and 90,000 Washington insiders in the business of influencing our government. When politicians have to pay more attention to them to get elected and stay in office, our government ceases to represent us. And that’s not how our democratic republic is supposed to work.
A study by professors at Princeton and Northwestern revealed that our representatives are more responsive to wealthy people than average citizens. Our government resembles more of a plutocracy – rule by the wealthy – than a democratic republic.
Big Money in Politics – Beyond Congress
After Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, spending by super PACs overwhelm state and local elections – including school board elections. But it doesn’t stop there. Big money groups also influence our judiciary system as well. In fact, interest groups have increased their pricey investment on judicial elections. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the year before the Citizens United decision, total non-candidate spending on state Supreme Court races was $11.4 million in 2009-2010. The year following the controversial ruling, in 2011-12, non-candidate spending spiked up to $24.1 million.
Millions of dollars are going into ads full of negative allegations towards judges that special interest groups don’t like. These broadcasted attacks – or even the threat of them – are affecting judicial decisions. In states where Citizens United withdrew pre-existing bans on corporate spending in elections, Shepard and Kang found that there was a 7% decrease in justices voting in favor of a criminal defendant. Why? The fear of “soft on crime” attacks ads insidiously influenced their decisions, specifically their customary instinct towards mercy.
This study implies that the power of a large ad buy can help corporations to handpick judges who will better serve their interests and bottom line.
How Do We Fix This?
We need a constitutional amendment declaring:
- Money is not free speech; and
- Corporations are not people.
We’ll never be able to limit the influence of big money in politics if corporations are given the same rights as people and if cash is treated the same way as speech. Anything less leaves Congress and corporations with plenty of wiggle room to corrupt our democracy.
How is That Supposed to Happen?
An amendment has to be passed by either a ⅔ vote of both houses of Congress or by a constitutional convention convened by the request of ⅔ of state legislatures. The amendment then has to be approved by ¾ of states.
To date, 19 states and over 800 communities have passed resolutions calling on Congress to support of a Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics and nearly 200 members of Congress support it too. An amendment is no longer a reformer’s pipe dream; it’s a viable solution to the problem.
What Can I Do?
We’re building a movement. If Congress isn’t going to do anything about this, we the people have to make ‘em. Politicians still need people to vote for them to win, and when enough people care about an issue and are willing to do something about it, it’s impossible to ignore. That’s why it is so important to help us build the movement to get money out of politics and to get involved. Public polling shows massive support across party lines for an amendment and for limits on campaign spending, so this is a fight we know we can win. Together, we can send a message loud and clear to our elected representatives that we demand change.