The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen United v. Federal Elections Commission case sold America down the river. It opens the floodgates to unfettered — unlimited! — corporate and union spending on candidate elections by overturning state and federal restrictions on electioneering. This will affect all elections: school board, zoning commissions, state and municipal judges, state representatives, congressional delegates, President.
The Supreme Court ruling means Americans can kiss goodbye whatever shred of faith we had left in the electoral process. Forget dissent. Forget debate. Forget reason. Corporate-owned media megaphones will drown out any troublesome voices. Our elected officials will henceforth represent corporations first and people second — bluntly and boldly — if they want to serve in “public” office.
Our ExxonMobil-funded officials will tell us climate change is good for us as they open America for coal and oil leasing. Our Big Pharma- and Big Insurance-backed congressional delegates will tell us you-don’t-really-want-a-public-option in health care reform. Our Monsanto-owned officials will give us growth hormones in milk and GMO diets. Goodbye Republic. Goodbye Democratic Process. Hello Corporate America.
Constitutional scholars are calling this is the most tragic assault on our human rights in the 220-plus years of our Republic. How did things come to this?
The expansion of corporate rights began over 200 years ago as the anti-corporate fervor from the American Revolution began to fade. The U.S. Supreme Court blurred the distinction between “natural persons,” or real living human beings, and “artificial persons” — corporations — in 1886 when it conferred the 14th Amendment right of “equal protection of the laws” to an artificial person, a railroad corporation in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Since then, the Supreme Court has handed out other human rights to artificial persons (corporations), including the battery of First Amendment rights leading to Citizens United.
There were early attempts to reverse parts, but not all, of the trend to give human rights to corporate persons. Specifically, under First Amendment issues, Congress passed the Tillman Act in 1907 to prohibit corporate expenditures in candidate elections to end an era of big money corruption and usher in campaign finance regulation. However, regulating something allows it to happen to the extent allowed by law and laws can change.
Starting in the 1970s, the Supreme Court began to chisel away our election integrity by granting corporations First Amendment rights including: “commercial speech,” as in free speech equals money; “political speech,” as in unlimited corporate spending for ads to overturn citizen initiatives; “negative speech,” as in the right not to speak and disclose harmful contents of products; and “false speech,” as in the right to blatantly lie in advertising under the guise of let the buyer beware. “Robust speech” or unlimited corporate spending on elections is just the next chip to fall from our First Amendment protections. It may be the last chip as there’s really nothing left to protect from corporate usurpation.
When I recently asked a class of fifth graders in Santa Barbara who were the “people” referred to in our Constitution, there was a stunned silence. Finally, one boy jabbed his thumb into his chest and said in an exasperated tone, “WE!” Surely our Founders had only this WE in mind when they drafted our Constitution and Bill of Rights. After all, WE had just rebelled against the monarchy and moneyed corporations of the time. When we first set out on the new adventure of our Republic in 1888, corporations were carefully controlled creatures of state legislatures. They had privileges, not rights. But no more. Powerful corporations burst their legal shackles using a backdoor approach through the Supreme Court to amend the real people’s Constitution by judicial fiat. Our democracy has been hijacked by corporations through illegitimate usurpation of rights intended for human persons. It makes no sense to fifth graders that fake persons have the same rights as real people – and it shouldn’t make sense to the rest of us either. The United States is no longer a government of, for, and by the real people: human rights are being trumped by fake persons – corporate – rights and power. It’s time to change the rules. Our Founders knew that the ultimate defenders of the U.S. Constitution were not the government or the court. The ultimate defenders are WE, the real people. It’s time to amend our Constitution through the front door approach spelled out in the Constitution. It’s time to make what is obvious to fifth graders the law of our land: People rule, not property! WE need to amend the Constitution to affirm that only human beings have constitutional rights, not artificial persons, not corporations.
Riki Ott shares her personal story of transformation from scientist to community activist in Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Chelsea Green, 2008). Sign the motion to amend the Constitution to affirm rule by the people, not corporations!