#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 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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