Moving From Disclosure to Prevention of Corporate Politicking

By David Swanson,

The US House of Representatives may soon have the opportunity to vote on whether to move forward with a constitutional amendment to ensure that we the people, not we the corporations, control our elections.

Yesterday, Congresswoman Donna Edwards introduced a proposed amendment to the DISCLOSE Act (HR 5175), a bill that would require disclosure by corporations engaged in making political expenditures as a result of the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. The Edwards language to be added to this bill would make clear that if the Supreme Court strikes down the disclosure law,

“Congress should immediately consider and send to the states for ratification an amendment to the Constitution to permit Congress to regulate the expenditure of funds by corporations engaging in political speech.”

To see the full text of the Edwards language, click here.

Congress needs to hear from us right away. Call your Member of Congress and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at (202) 224-3121 (the Capitol Hill switchboard) and urge them to support Congresswoman Edwards’ amendment to the DISCLOSE Act (HR 5175).

This amendment to a bill could be the key to driving forward support for a necessary amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court was wrong. Corporations are not people. If we the people are to govern, then we must move forward with a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy.  I know you agree, because I’ve seen the national and state-level polls showing that you agree.  Here’s the latest from Massachusetts:

“Voters overwhelmingly opposed the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising.  Eighty-two percent of voters surveyed opposed the ruling, while 14 percent supported it.  Seventy-eight percent of voters said it would have a negative effect on elections, while 11 percent said it would have a positive impact.”

It’s cute how all the pollsters use the word “would” while the negative impact rolls forward like a wave of oil exploading into the Gulf.  Californians may have caught this headline:

PG&E Drops Another $9 Million into Prop 16; Asks for a $4 BILLION Rate Hike

Here’s a power company using people’s dollars to maintain a monopoly and other rights that flesh and blood people don’t have, and asking for more public money, a bit of which it will undoubtedly use to ensure it gets even more public money:

“The company has already spent $35 million to pass Proposition 16 which would cement their monopoly, and has dumped another $9.5 million in the past five days. Meanwhile, PG&E (who paid its C.E.O. $9.4 million last year) is requesting the California Public Utilities Commission to grant them a 30% rate hike – which would generate $4 billion in profits.”

The resistance is both creative and damn near hopeless:

“Ben Zolno of Sebastopol has run a YouTube campaign that prides on spending only ‘one-millionth’ of what PG&E is spending to pass Prop 16. When news broke that PG&E has dumpted another $9 million, he announced on his blog that he will now spend an extra nine dollars – and asked readers how he should spend that money.”

Jeff Clements, of, points out that “PGE was an early leader in the activist corporate drive to take over the free speech rights of people.  The 1986 PGE case was one of the early corporate speech cases (Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Corporation of California, 475 U.S. 1133 (1986).”  The holding in this case was as follows: Even though California rate payers own the space in the billing envelopes of the power corporation, the Supreme Court held that it is a violation of the corporation’s “free speech rights” to require that a regulated utility corporation that inserts, at ratepayers’ expense, corporate propaganda and political editorials in the billing envelopes, occasionally provide alternative views. 

Who authored such an opinion?  Lewis Powell, a former Chamber of Commerce lawyer who was given the immense power to sit on a Supreme Court that rewrites our Constitution.

Clements notes that Justice William Rehnquist, as usual in these corporate speech cases, dissented: 

“There is, however, a more fundamental flaw in the plurality’s analysis. This Court has recognized that natural persons enjoy negative free speech rights because of their interest in self-expression;  an individual’s right not to speak or to associate with the speech of others is a component of the broader constitutional interest of natural persons in freedom of conscience. . . .Extension of the individual freedom of conscience decisions to business corporations strains the rationale of those cases beyond the breaking point. To ascribe to such artificial entities an ‘intellect’ or ‘mind’ for freedom of conscience purposes is to confuse metaphor with reality.   Corporations generally have not played the historic role of newspapers as conveyers of individual ideas and opinion.   In extending positive free speech rights to corporations, this Court drew a distinction between the First Amendment rights of corporations and those of natural persons.” 

Justice Rehnquist closed with this:  “PG & E is not an individual or a newspaper publisher;  it is a regulated utility.   The insistence on treating identically for constitutional purposes entities that are demonstrably different is as great a jurisprudential sin as treating differently those entities which are the same.”

Well said.  And now buried beneath further rulings that compound the problem.  Now the Constitutional amendment process is how we must set things straight.  Make that call to Congress, and work at your local and state level as well.

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