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 serves as President of American Promise. He has practiced law for three decades in public service and private practice, and is the author of Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations. He is also the founder of Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides sustainable financing to businesses in the local agriculture economy. Previously, Jeff has been a partner in a major Boston law firm and served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the public law enforcement bureau in the Attorney General’s Office in Massachusetts. Jeff has helped to start and been a board member of many non-profit organizations and businesses. Today, in addition to the board of American Promise, he serves on the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord, Massachusetts. Twitter: @ClementsJeff
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