#ForwardOnClimate, Environmental Catastrophe & Citizens United

Americans from all over the country are coming to Washington on Saturday to demand action on the climate crisis. Here’s information about that from 350.org, from the Sierra Club. and the Hip Hop Caucus. If you can be there, be there.

As Miles Mogulescu has described, Americans get the connection between the climate crisis and the democracy crisis. We now know that without action by all of us, the future is lost, or at least very ugly.

The dual crisis symbolized by Citizens United and the Keystone XL Pipeline has been a long time coming. Indeed, it was a bold, unprecedented challenge by powerful oil companies and utilities that marked one of the earliest milestones in the story of the corporate take-over of our democracy that I describe in my book, Corporations Are Not People. In a 1980 Supreme Court decision written by Lewis Powell (more on that here) , the Court ruled that it was illegal – – a violation of corporate speech rights – – for states to try to limit monopoly utility corporations from promoting the consumption of energy. 

Over the next few decades, international corporations used this new and radical  “corporate speech” doctrine in the courts to wipe out energy, environmental, food and health, financial and other laws, culminating in Citizens United. In some ways, Citizens United, stating that corporations are “voices”, even “disadvantaged persons,” that cannot be prevented from spending money on elections and politics, is a monstrously logical conclusion of these cases going back to Central Hudson. If one accepts that global corporations are merely “speakers” and “persons” under our Constitution, then a “right” to spend unlimited political money makes as much sense as a “right” to consume unlimited fossil fuels and emit unlimited pollution.

And with Citizens United unleashing unlimited corporate money in politics, the oil companies, the coal companies, and the rest of the brutally damaging fossil fuel industry, have been  among the most aggressive in deploying the Court’s gift of even more unbalanced power. As I wrote recently for Orion Magazine’s blog:

But the proper metaphor for money in politics is power—not speech. Power is the reason Monsanto and other corporate giants spent $46 million to smother a GMO-labeling ballot initiative in California. Power is why Chevron contributed $2.5 million to Speaker John Boehner’s Super PAC to hold a majority for climate obstructionists in Congress. And power is why Saudi oil interests used the American Petroleum Institute (and their huge stakes in international corporations, such as News Corporation) to sway various election contests.

No campaign in November was too obscure for this corruption. Chevron deceptively funneled $1.2 million into local city council races in Richmond, California, a community of 100,000 people. One reason: Chevron runs a refinery there, one that has long plagued the community, and one that, following an explosion in August, sent thousands of people to area hospitals. Control of the Richmond city council will be helpful to Chevron.

Americans have had enough and are pushing back. That’s what the 28th Amendment movement to overturn Citizens United is all about. That’s what the campaign to revoke the Delaware corporate charter of the criminal Massey Energy Corporation is all about. And that’s what this weekend’s #ForwardOnClimate action is all about.

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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