The nationwide fight to repeal a widely criticized U.S. Supreme Court decision that equates money with speech has come to San Luis Obispo County, where some local residents are gearing up to educate the public in support of a constitutional amendment.
The Move to Amend campaign aims eventually to curtail the flow of cash into political campaigns, a gusher of money that local San Luis Obispo Move to Amend organizer Gary Steinmann calls “astronomical.”
Money has long influenced politics in America. But the January 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission said that limits on independent expenditures by corporations violate the First Amendment right to free speech.
Combined with earlier decisions that called corporations people, the ruling, Steinmann said, allows corporations “to take the rights that belong to the rest of us and use them against us.”
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Steinmann said people can see the effects of money in the current Republican primaries, where candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in particular are eviscerating one another using virtually unlimited donations freed up by the Citizens United decision.
The proposed amendment says, in layman’s terms, that money is not speech and corporations are not people.
Passing an amendment is no easy task.
Article 5 of the Constitution says Congress, with a two-thirds majority vote in the House and the Senate, can propose an amendment. If it passes there, it goes to the states, where it must be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.
The heavy odds against them do not daunt Steinmann and others in the Move to Amend campaign. He calls the “corrosive” influence of money in politics “one of the few issues that could bring the extreme right and the extreme left together.”
“We are not trying to stifle business, limit the amount of honest money a company can make, or ‘redistribute wealth,’ ” Steinmann wrote in an email. “We just think that the playing field has been tilted so badly that average citizens can no longer compete for the ear of our elected representatives, and we want our voice back.”
“Taking these massive amounts of money out of the political equation is the best hope we have of accomplishing that,” he wrote.
Steinmann quoted Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain on the insidious effects of the Citizens United ruling.
McCain told late-night television talk show host David Letterman, “We can now get 10 people together, each of them give $10 million and you’d have $100 million in a campaign, by 10 people! This nation, this political system, is awash in money.”
Steinmann says Move to Amend is in the formative stage locally and he hopes to announce a general meeting in February.
He says the group will circulate petitions (they have one at their website, movetoamend.org), and go to local governmental bodies and organizations seeking their formal support.
Move to Amend is active in all 50 states, Steinmann said.
Proposed constitutional amendment
Section 1 [Corporations are not people and can be regulated]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.
The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
Section 2 [Money is not speech and can be regulated]
Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.
The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.