In an attempt to combat what they describe as the “corporate rule” of American lawmakers, two congressmen on Monday introduced a new constitutional amendment that would unequivocally state that the rights granted under the U.S. Constitution belong only to human beings, and not corporations.
“It’s time to take the shaping and molding of public policy out of corporate boardrooms, away from the corporate lobbyists, and put it back in city halls – back with county boards and state legislatures – and back in the Congress where it belongs,” U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., the lead sponsor of the amendment, said Monday.
Nolan, along with U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., teamed up with the advocacy group Move to Amend to draft what is known as the “We the People Amendment.” The group, a coalition of nearly 260,000 people and hundreds of organizations, has worked to pass almost 500 resolutions in municipalities and local governments across the nation that specify political spending is not a form a speech protected under the First Amendment.
The new amendment in question would state that: 1. Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, and not to government-created artificial legal entities such as corporations and limited liability companies; and 2. Political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.
The proposal is a response to the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision, where the nation’s high court held that it is unconstitutional for the government to restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions because those expenditures are a form of constitutionally protected speech.
A subsequent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Speechnow.org v. FEC authorized the creation of super-PACs, political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations but cannot make direct contributions to candidates. These outside spending groups – which can spend unlimited funds to independently support a political candidate, as long as they do not coordinate directly with the campaign – spent more than $468 million to influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election alone.
While several lawmakers have, in recent years, proposed constitutional amendment’s intended to regulate political spending, the Nolan-Pocan proposal is the first to explicitly address the Supreme Court doctrines that grant constitutional rights to artificial entities and define political spending as free speech.
Move to Amend, for its part, has taken its message on the road. The group teamed up with Ben Cohen of “Ben and Jerry’s” fame last year to launch the Stamp Stampede campaign.
In an effort to publicize the issue of money in politics, Move to Amend volunteers will be traveling across the nation in Cohen’s Amend-O-Matic Stampmobile, a customized van designed to carry a dollar bill on a roller-coaster-like track and into a stamping device that adorns it with one of four campaign finance reform slogans.
But even though several polls suggest a majority of Americans are in support of legislation to reinstate restrictions on political spending, passing an actual constitutional amendment to address the issue is a longshot.
To add an amendment to the Constitution, both the House and Senate must pass the proposal with a two-thirds majority, which then must be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures.
The ratification process can be quite time-consuming.
The 27th Amendment, the latest to be added to the Constitution, was ratified in 1992. The amendment, which prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next term of office, was initially submitted to the states for ratification in 1789.