December 14, 2013
To: Kevin Brown, Editor
From: John Scepanski
Subject: Guest column for the DeForest Times-Tribune, December 2013
Let's Get Money Out of Politics -- Vote YES on the April Referendums
At next April's election, DeForest, Windsor, and Waunakee voters will get to express their opinions on the influence of big money in government. The elected boards of DeForest, Windsor, and Waunakee have agreed to place on the ballot referendums that, if passed, will ask our U.S. Congressional representatives to initiate an amendment to the United States Constitution that will put big money into its proper place. If passed, such an amendment will look something like this.
Proposed Amendment to the United States Constitution
Section 1 [Corporations are not people]
The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.
Artificial entities 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]
Federal, state and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit 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.
Is this the exact and precise wording of the constitutional amendment that we want adopted? Probably not. The precise wording of proposed amendments typically changes as they go through the various stages of approval. We cannot guarantee what the exact final wording will be. However, the final wording must make it clear that: 1) artificial legal entities like corporations and unions are not "persons" with regard to constitutional rights; and 2) money is not speech under the meaning of the First Amendment.
While we realize that corporations and other artificial entities like them are necessary for the free and fluid functioning of our economic system, corporations are not naturally occurring beings the same as flesh-and-blood people. We, the people, through our governments, enable groups to form corporations. These corporations are given certain privileges that allow them to act in some ways as artificial persons. Corporations can, for example, own property and enter into contracts. However, rights are different from privileges. Only real, flesh-and-blood people can possess rights as intended in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Corporations have legal privileges but not human rights. Your YES vote on the referendums will send that message to our elected representatives.
According to the national Move to Amend movement, it was not until 1886 that the idea of corporate personhood was first introduced in the United States. The Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution almost a hundred years prior never intended corporations to have the same rights as individuals. "Since 1886, courts have handed out more human rights to corporations. Armed with human rights and legal privileges, large corporations have amassed fantastic wealth and power, which has undermined our sovereign self-governance and created a democracy crisis." (South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend)
From the 1500s through most of the 1800s, corporations served our economy well, having privileges but not rights. But beginning after the Civil War and culminating with the 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, corporations have claimed ever-expanding rights that no legislature or peoples' referendum has ever granted them. These decisions mean that corporations chartered in the US -- even those with foreign owners -- have the same rights as citizens and voters do. We don't think that's right. Of the Citizens United ruling, Senator John McCain said, "I think there's going to be a backlash, ... when you see the amounts of union and corporate money that's going into political campaigns." Former Senator Russ Feingold said, "This decision was a terrible mistake. Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president."
Specifically, as a result of these decisions, there are certain ways in which we, the people, have been losing our control over the conduct of the corporations we created.
Corporations have used our human Fourteenth Amendment rights (equal protection of the laws) to force state and local governments to revoke legislation that protected small and local businesses.
Corporations have used our human Fifth Amendment rights (against self-incrimination) to refuse to allow health and safety inspectors on their premises.
Corporations are using our human First Amendment rights (free speech and petitioning our government) to strike down the campaign finance and lobbying laws we adopted to fight government corruption.
Regular citizens across the entire political spectrum are tired of big-money influence controlling and corrupting our government. This is not a right-versus-left partisan political issue. Legislators of both parties crafted the campaign finance laws that have been struck down by the courts. Both political parties are now so beholden to corporate sponsors that neither can lead us back to the days when human rights were reserved for humans. That is why we need a Constitutional amendment and your YES vote on the referendums coming up in April.
Laws and regulations that have allowed corporations to be a vital contribution to our economy in the past and the present will continue. We, the people, will continue to be able to choose to give corporations any and all powers, privileges, and freedoms we believe to be useful and wise. The only difference will be that corporations will not be able to demand these as their rights. They will need to gain them through normally debated and enacted legislation.
As the Move to Amend National Law & Research Committee has explained,
Please note that the “We the People Amendment” does not strip corporations from the ability to sue or be sued or to enter into contracts. It merely affirms that all [non-human] entities created under law (for-profit corporations, non-profit corporations, limited liability partnerships, incorporated unions, etc) are created under the auspices of local, state and federal law, and that any legal privileges such entities exercise are subject to the political process.
(For the purposes of this article, I have borrowed from some of the material provided by national, state, and regional "Move-to-Amend" associations.)
This amendment will pertain to other organizations, too, like unions and non-profit organizations. When this constitutional amendment is adopted, no on-paper entity of any kind will have legal rights. However, we the people, through our elected representatives, will be able to legislate powers, privileges, or benefits as we believe they should have them.
In conclusion, we are working as free and independent citizens in DeForest, Windsor, and Waunakee to call for an amendment to the United States Constitution stating that, 1) Only human beings—not corporations, unions, non-profits, or similar associations—are endowed with constitutional rights, and 2) Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
We would like you, our fellow citizens, to join us in this effort on April First by voting YES on the referendums you will find on the ballots along with the candidates for office in that election.