The Nation: Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United But Should We Decide Which One?

Katrina vanden Heuvel has a great piece in the Nation this week on the “showdown” as the second anniversary of the notorious Citizens United v. FEC decision approaches. (OK, OK, full disclosure:  she says about my book, “This is a book that anyone who cares about taking back our democracy of, by and for the people must check out.”).

Vanden Heuvel points to much progress, from the Big Sky rebellion of the Montana  Supreme Court, to the wave of local and state resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment, and to increasing action in Congress to move amendment bills forward. On the last point, vanden Heuvel calls for unity behind one version of the People’s Rights Amendment to bring clarity to the cause:

In Congress, a number of representatives  have introduced resolutions seeking a constitutional remedy, including: Donna Edwards; Senator Tom Udall and Representative Betty Sutton; Representative Ted Deutsch and Senator Bernie Sanders; Representative Jim McGovern; Representative John Yarmuth and Republican Representative Walter Jones; Representative Keith Ellison, and others. Kudos to these Senators and Congressmen for their good proposals, and—as with the pro-democracy advocacy organizations—the more they are able to agree on the language of an amendment, the more easily citizens will be able to rally around it.

It’s not clear though whether it is still too early in this effort to expect that everyone can agree on a single version of the People’s Rights Amendment that will address the related but separate problems of uncontrolled money (whether corporate money or not) in elections, and uncontrolled corporate power in elections and beyond that has eroded representative democracy and the public interest.

Perhaps one Constitutional amendment can address both Citizens United/corporate personhood and Buckley v. Valeo/”money is speech”. Perhaps we need two amendments.

Perhaps we should “carve out” some corporate entities– some say the problem is business corporations not non-profit corporations and unions; others say the key distinction is between human beings and legal entities that are created under state laws.

Perhaps we should include specific campaign finance reforms in the amendment or perhaps we should empower Congress and the States to do so, leaving details to be hashed out in the democratic process after the amendment’s restoration of free speech and equal voting rights for people in the Constitution.

These and more are important questions.  Constitutional amendments are not simple. In the end, though, they should state a simple truth that reflects an American consensus. Successful amendments tend to be propositions that make government of, for and by equal people real, and that protect freedom against forces of inequality and power.

Debate about exact wording will grow as the People’s Rights Amendment movement grows. That debate is a sign of significant progress.  While the debate goes on, people and groups who may have different views on specific wording are coming together at United4thePeople to insist that this Amendment effort, and republican democracy rather than corporatocracy, win in the end.

Check out the different amendment bills  linked at www.united4thepeople.org. What do you think? And as vanden Heuvel says, “will you join in the effort?”

About Jeff Clements

Jeff Clements is co-founder and chair of the board of Free Speech for People, a national non-partisan campaign to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, challenge excessive corporate power, and strengthen American democracy and republican self-government. He co-founded Free Speech For People in 2010, after representing several public interest organizations with a Supreme Court amicus brief in the Citizens United case. Jeff has served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. As Bureau Chief, he led more than 100 staff in the enforcement of environmental, healthcare, financial services, civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection laws. In private practice, Jeff has been a partner at Mintz Levin in Boston, and in his own firm. Jeff also has served in leadership capacities on numerous boards, including that of the Portland Water District, a public agency responsible for protecting and delivering safe drinking water and ensuring proper treatment of wastewater for 160,000 people; Friends of Casco Bay, an environmental organization he co-founded with others to protect and enhance stewardship of Maine’s Casco Bay; and The Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts. In 2012, Jeff co-founded Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides cost-effective capital to farmers and businesses engaged in local, sustainable agriculture. Jeff graduated with distinction in History and Government from Colby College in 1984, and magna cum laude from the Cornell Law School in 1988. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and three children. Jeff Clements Twitter: @ClementsJeff Email: jclements@freespeechforpeople.org
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